Monthly Archives: May 2011

TOS Crew: Read for the Heart (Apologia)

I can’t believe that this year’s TOS Cruise is nearly over. This is the last review for 2010-2011. A new Crew has signed on, and is getting ready to embark.

Well, we saved one of the best items for the last review.

Sarah Clarkson’s Read for the Heart resonated with me, from the first time I peeked under the bright cover. It brought me back to the first steps of our home education journey.

We had no clue as to what we were doing. All we knew was that we thought we could do better by our special needs daughter than the System was doing, and at the very least we could keep her safer from the bullies who were tearing her down, making her so miserable that she’d stopped trying.

She ended first grade not even confident of 1+1. I figured out, not long after I began to work with her, that her brain was tricking her. She’d add 1+1 so quickly that she didn’t believe she was finished adding, and so she’d take that “2” and add it and get 4. Thus, 1+1=4. Her teacher, busy with a classful, didn’t have time to troubleshoot. All she did was mark our daughter’s answers wrong with a bold red pen.

Anyhow, my husband knew a homeschooling father (this was back when homeschooling was barely legal, so homeschooling hardly seemed like a viable choice, but it kept getting brought to our attention). He convinced me to try to teach our daughter the addition tables (up to 10+10) over the summer. If I could do that, I’d have done way more than her certified first grade teacher.

Working together, one-on-one, with the loving patience (and sometimes not so patience) that is more likely to come from a mom than a stranger, we worked our way through the addition tables. Before the end of July, she could add up to 12+12, and not only that, but she could add columns of multi-digit numbers (thanks to the math curriculum we chose, well-suited to special needs as well as average and gifted children).

That was it. We notified the authorities and we were on our way.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from the wife of that homeschooling dad (yes, the one who suggested homeschooling to us in the first place) was to start a family readaloud time. I’m so thankful that my husband’s work schedule left his evenings free at that time. Every night, he read aloud for half an hour to an hour, usually at the rate of one chapter a night. Occasionally we’d be successful in entreating him to read more. One night, eleven chapters from the end of Pollyanna, we were all so eager to find out what would happen, we kept on reading (well, he kept on reading, and we kept on listening), chapter after chapter, until long past bedtime!

This is what Read for the Heart is all about — establishing a reading habit, and planting and growing a lifelong love for good books. For each of a number of genres (see the Table of Contents here), the author introduces the genre and follows with a list of authors, titles, and series.  These aren’t bare booklists; for every book listed you get a brief description/synopsis, and often an aside from Sarah Clarkson as to her own reaction, or her family’s thoughts, on a favorite book.

For a sampling, check out this sample chapter. I can vouch for many of the books included here. They’ve been favorites of our own family, pulling us from chapter to chapter. (I can always tell a good book: The end of a chapter leaves the girls begging for more.) What makes Read for the Heart so valuable to us, when we already have so many good books under our collective belt, is all the books listed that we have not yet read! Hoorah, more grist for the mill…

Read for the Heart is available from Apologia Press (check out their great list of Resources for Parents for $17 in softcover.

Read more TOS Crew impressions here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received a free copy of Read for the Heart for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Homeschooling and the “S” Word

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling EXPO has been going on this week. I’ve been in and out, but when I’ve been in, I’ve been listening. Good stuff! The topics are varied: learning styles, high school writing, home economics, homeschool politics, and more (my brain’s a little fuzzy, haven’t brewed the coffee yet for today).

Dr. Brian Ray spoke at the end of the day yesterday, and even though I’ve heard him speak a few times before, it was a good reminder, both of the statistics that show that home education works better (at the very least in terms of test results and socialization) than institutionalized school, and of the opposition to home education on the part of the social elitists. Seems as if they’d like to make it some kind of a crime to raise free-thinking people — who actually know how to think, and are able to think for themselves.

Anyhow, the “socialization” concept came up during Dr. Ray’s talk, and there was quite a spirited discussion going on in the chat sidebar, too. Someone shared a link to a blog post, and I saved the link and read it this morning. Good post! If you’re concerned about socialization, or you’ve been fending off well-meaning people who ask you about it, here’s some food for thought from Home Schooling Goodness.

TOS Crew: Institute for Excellence in Writing

This is a review that I’ve been excited about for quite awhile. You see, not only were the good folks at Institute for Excellence in Writing incredibly generous to the TOS Crew in terms of the materials they sent us to review, but they gave us months to use the program, to get a real feel for how it works, and to see the results.

…fondly known amongst home educators I hang out with as IEW. (And that’s not pronounced “eeew” — because it’s just the opposite; definitely a “Yes! I can do this!” Say, instead, “eye, eee, double-u” and you’ll sound like an old pro.)

I was first introduced to Andrew Pudewa and his methods for teaching writing when Middlest was a second grader.  Our church sponsored an IEW seminar. Now, I didn’t know what IEW was, only that it had been spoken of highly by other homeschoolers in our church, some of whom had been using the program for a few years.

Attending a live seminar…

It was like drinking from a firehose, only strangely refreshing. I learned so much over the course of a few days. The room was full of moms, sitting at tables, doing what we’d soon be practicing at home with our students. It was teacher training at its best and most intensive (at least, the most intensive I’ve experienced). We were not just learning theory, we were doing.

We went through the exercises, did the writing and the talking and the raising hands (not that you necessarily have to raise your hand at home) and the contributing to the discussion. We called out answers to Mr. Pudewa’s questions; we wrote key-word outlines; we paired off and spoke from our outlines to each other; we composed our paragraphs. The pace was fast, yet not hurried. We had fun… and yet we worked hard, and better yet, we learned about learning to write, and helping someone else learn the skills that we as adults may well take for granted and not quite know how to pass on to our children.

Frankly, I don’t remember all the details of that live seminar. I’m pretty sure we didn’t go through all nine units in Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, though Mr. Pudewa occasionally mentioned the more advanced units, especially during question-and-answer sessions. I remember when I got home I was rather dazed, and I probably didn’t absorb all the information that was presented.

Later I had the chance to work my way through the old VHS version of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style with a small group of moms. That was much better! (Edited to add: If you have the opportunity to go to a live seminar, GO! You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll lose a lot of that fear of teaching writing as you pick up practical tools. When I said “better” I meant I was able to retain more, at the slower pace of a little bit every week, with opportunities to rewind and watch something over again if needed. But the live seminar was a great jump start into writing.)

Our homeschool group bought the video tapes, and each of us bought our own copy of the syllabus. We met once a week. We’d watch a lesson, stopping the tapes to do the practice exercises, discussing the material after the lesson, sometimes trouble-shooting and problem solving. That was a long time ago, and I sort of got away from IEW-style writing, in part because Eldest is a special learner and took years to understand how to make a key-word outline. I fell back on copywork and narration, first oral, and then written, though I still listened wistfully to friends who’d used IEW over the years, and how well it had worked.

…versus DVDs

One of the products our family was privileged to review was Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. This is the drawn-out version of the live TWSS seminar. The course is $169, including DVDs and seminar workbook, plus the additional TIPS DVD (see below).

When the Crew was offered the chance to review IEW materials, I thought it time to give it another try, and now I wish I’d started a few years ago with Middlest and Youngest, who took to key-word outlines with no problem at all, and soon were ready for the next step, and the next. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Back to Teaching Wrting: Structure and Style. The set contains ten DVDs and a workbook. It’s a “video seminar for teachers and parents,” but it also contains three student workshop DVDs, for grades 2-4, 5-7, and 8-10, where Mr. Pudewa demonstrates the IEW approach with a roomful of students, whose voices can be heard responding to his conversational style of teaching. (Lots of enthusiasm, punctuated with laughter. Think of it: Writing made painless.) As a bonus, a DVD with “Tips & Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units” is included.

The first six DVDs are teacher training, introducing each of the nine units that comprise IEW’s methodology. The units start with very simple concepts and build from there. You start out with an established piece of writing. (Do you know what that means? You don’t have to sit there and stare at a blank page and think of something to write!) You learn to pick out key ideas, to take notes that will become a basis for your own writing.

Eventually, you’ll end up with your own written passage. It restates the information in the model, but it’s not plagiarism. You’ve taken the ideas and re-formed them in your own words. Along the way, you’ve learned some stylistic techniques to enrich your writing (different types of sentences, adverbs, strong verbs and adjectives, and that sort of thing).

In some ways, the writing is mechanical. IEW provides a step-by-step method for teaching and learning writing. You learn how to take notes, how to rewrite a passage, how to come up with a title. You work with fiction and nonfiction. You learn to synthesize from multiple sources. You learn to write reports, and eventually, essays and critiques. (We haven’t gotten to the reports and essays, yet.) You have a checklist and word lists for reference while writing.

In other ways, the writing is creative and fun. The examples Mr. Pudewa has chosen for his lectures helps, and he’s got subjects to appeal to boys and girls by turn. “Gooey, mushy” vulture bees, for example — doesn’t that sound like something a boy could really… well, not exactly sink his teeth into, but perhaps push his pencil along with a bit more relish than if he’s been assigned a description of his bedroom as a writing topic.

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is not just a nine-month (one academic year) course. It doesn’t work that way. Well, I suppose it can, if you can manage to teach one unit a month. (If you did approach it that way, you could repeat the course each year, using more challenging materials each time through.) The way the course has worked for us, is for each of the girls to work at her own level. That means that Eldest, after several months, is still working to master concepts from Units 1 and 2, Note Taking and Summarizing from Notes, with just a few “Dress-Ups” or stylistic techniques thrown in. Youngest is slightly further along, having mastered the skills presented in Unit 6 (Writing from Pictures) but still needing to practice drawing from multiple sources to produce a report. Middlest has sprinted ahead, but can benefit from more practice from the standpoint of the organization and discipline imposed by this formal approach to writing. (Whoa, that was a cumbersome sentence. Sorry, Mr. Pudewa!)

Anyhow, we will keep working at these writing skills at each of the girls’ levels. One of the beauties of the IEW method is that they can apply these writing skills in just about any of their academic subjects: Bible, history, literature, and science, to name a few.

Student Writing Intensive

…which brings me to the second product we reviewed. The Student Writing Intensive  is sort of like the Student Workshop from TWSS, only on steroids. Mr. Pudewa teaches directly to the students. This product comes in three levels ($99 each level):

– A: Grades 3-5
– B: Grades 6-8
– C: Grades 9-12

Each level comes with DVDs, teacher notes, source texts, and student handouts which may be copied for the students within one family. You can buy additional student handouts for co-op or multiple family use.

It was really hard to choose just one level! …especially with the three girls at such different levels. At last I elected to try Level C, even though two of the girls are slightly below that grade level. One of the deciding factors was the list of topics included in each level. (See diagram below.) Taking notes from a live lecture is a skill that all three of the girls need now, and this skill is covered in Level C. (Also, when I asked a friend’s advice, she thought that all three girls would be able to manage this level if I let them move at a slower pace, and did additional exercises as needed if somebody didn’t grasp a concept right away.)

We took about four weeks to go through the four DVDs included in the Student Writing Intensive, and this summer I’ll probably go through it with them again, just to see how much more they understand (or maybe I should say, to see how much more I understand) after using Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.

At the IEW website, you can get both Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and one level of the Student Writing Intensive for a combined price of $239 (a savings of $29 over buying each individually). These IEW courses may seem expensive at first glance, but they are non-consumable, and you can use them year after year. If it’s still too much of a stretch, you might consider joining together with another family or two to buy the sets, plus additional student materials as needed. You could either pass the DVDs around, or (as we did, years ago with the course on VHS) get together for regular sessions. (Actually, it’s kind of fun for students to work together and share their creativity!)

I almost forgot, we also received the Portable Wall ($7), a nifty (did I just say “nifty”?) reference tool for those using IEW as a writing course, or IEW techniques in your other academic subjects. It’s a pocket folder with an extra page, and its surfaces are covered with IEW writing charts and words lists. I’d already bought one before I knew the Crew would be reviewing IEW materials, and because the girls liked the look of it so much I already had plans to get more copies so that all four of us (the girls and I) could each have our own. It’s a valuable reference tool and a handy place to keep your current writing project.

IEW has other products as well, related to spelling and speaking, grammar and literature. Check out their website and catalog. There’s also a yahoo group for users of IEW materials.

In Conclusion

Writing doesn’t have to be painful or stuffy, for the student or the teacher. IEW gives the student the tools to succeed at writing, whether an enthusiastic yet disorganized spewer-of-words or a taciturn pen-pusher. In addition, it gives the teacher a method to follow, as well as clear direction on how to evaluate your child’s writing and encourage improvement.

Andrew Pudewa’s presentation crackles with energy. He shares his insight into how people learn. He speaks in clipped, precise tones, displaying a dry wit. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, though it’s obvious that he takes his subject seriously, and he challenges his students to do their best.

Excellence in Writing?

You bet.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing for review purposes only. Opinions are our own. No additional compensation was involved.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of IEW materials, click here.

TOS Crew: GoTrybe

I kind of missed the boat on this one.

TOS Crew reviewers had until April 30 to sign up their children on this online fitness site, GoTrybe. I registered Middlest… and then got busy with other things.

May 1st I realized…

Even though the deadline had passed, at least I had one of the girls set up with an account. She’d selected a user name and password, set up an avatar (an online persona, that can look something like you look, or not at all),

clicked around a couple of places on the site, lost interest, and went off to do something else.

Frankly, my first impression of the site wasn’t great. The cartoony figures that greet you on the welcome page are kind of edgy, in terms of posture and appearance. (Middlest’s avatar — and she didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter — looks challenging, perhaps even trying to appear sexy, though if you’re used to that sort of thing you might not have a problem with it. We’re big fans of modesty around here.)

Finally, today, I put my foot down. I was going to have to write a review of this site, and unless I basically wanted to quote the informational material from the GoTrybe site, Middlest was going to have to use the site!

She sat down, signed in, and began to put together an exercise routine. This consists of a number of segments, strung together: warm-up, cardio (three of these), strength training, and stretching. Altogether she put together about half an hour of exercise.

Here’s what the screen looks like:

You pick each piece of the workout individually. There must be hundreds of videos to choose from! First you name your workout, and then you choose a warm-up routine from the available selections, lots of categories to suit your circumstances. There’s a thumbnail description for every video, which tells you the category, whether it’s something you can do in a classroom, special equipment needed (if any), levels of difficulty and intensity. Among the categories we saw:

– basketball
– track and field
– Pilates
– Yoga
– kick boxing
– salsa dancing

…and I’m sure there were more. You can mix and match them, too, doing a track-and-field cardio followed by a kickboxing cardio and then a Pilates selection. Middlest put together a workout routine, choosing mostly kick-boxing videos. Then we cleared the area around the computer desk (it’s in our dining room, so we moved a few chairs out of the way and pushed the table back), and started the workout.

I’m not in shape, but I did a lot of the moves along with her, modifying them somewhat. I’m familiar with Aerobic Dance classes (almost became an instructor, in fact, which people who know me now would probably never believe), so the workout looked familiar, even though the moves might have been somewhat different.

Each of the segments has a leader who introduces him/herself and the assistants and then starts the exercise segment. The segments we watched did not have music, but did have a background, pulsing beat. (The kickboxing “beat” sounded different than the salsa “beat” but I can’t tell you about the other choices, as we haven’t played around with the program that much, yet.)

From my experience with workouts, I’d say the program looks sound. The leader explains the moves as you do them together, occasionally giving you a choice for modifying your moves, or going into detail about body position. Middlest had a little problem with a few of the moves, but I was able to help her modify the routine, and also helped her to adjust her crunches so that she was working the right part of her abs and not lifting with her neck and arms. (If you’ve done crunches or situps, you know what I mean.)

Reaction: Enthusiasm! Fun, even!

Middlest kept talking through the workout, about how something didn’t feel good (we adjusted), or she could feel her pulse-rate increasing, or she could feel the stretch, that sort of thing. At the end she was feeling good, glowing, grinning, and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Her younger sister wandered in partway through, and wanted to jump in. I let her put together a workout, and she and Middlest went through it.

That’s the “fitness” portion. There are some sit-down instructional areas on the site as well: nutrition, motivation, and wellness. For each of these, you read a short selection and answer a multiple choice question at the end. (Middlest pronounced this “dumb” as the answers were pretty obvious.) Points are awarded for completing a workout, as well as going through the reading-and-question selections.

With accumulated points, you can buy clothes and accessories for your avatar. (Middlest got a virtual kitten for her efforts, among other things.) One of the fun aspects of the site is that you can adjust the color of the clothing items that you’re buying, meaning you can put together some pretty wild or carefully color-coordinated outfits.

All this to say, I think Middlest is sorry she procrastinated so long on trying out GoTrybe. She loved the workout, is excited about putting together more workouts, varying the elements, and really thinks that GoTrybe will be a great tool for getting back in shape after a long, cold, rainy winter.

GoTrybe has programs available for different age groups:

  • ZooDoos is for the elementary ages, K-5th grade
  • Trybe180 is for middle school ages, 6th-8th grade
  • NexTrybe is for high school ages, 9th-12th grade

Try GoTrybe for free!

You can try GoTrybe for free if you sign up here and use the promocode GETFIT. After your free trial, you can get a year’s subscription for $19.95. (The regular price is $39.95, so it’s a real bargain!)

GoTrybe also has blogs with fitness tips, a forum for questions and discussions, a friends list (don’t know how this works, haven’t got around to using it yet), and a list of high-scoring users).

To read more TOS Crew reviews of GoTrybe, click here.

TOS Crew: Kregel Publications

Youngest was excited when the new book arrived from Kregel Publications. She was already a big fan of Andi, the heroine of Susan Marlow’s Circle C Adventure series.

At last year’s curriculum fair, the girls spent a lot of time at Susan Marlow’s booth, looking at her books, while they weren’t working their volunteer shifts. After talking to the author, we ended up buying a full set of books. These are recommended for ages 9-14, but all our girls, even the one older than 14, (as a matter of fact, even the Mom) enjoyed reading them.

The books are set in late 1800s California, and center around 12 year old Andrea Carter, the youngest of a large family. (Lots of big brothers!)

Thus, when a new series was announced, Youngest was so excited! When the book arrived (Andi’s Indian Summer), she claimed it as her own and disappeared into her room.

Keep in mind that this is my reluctant reader.

Some time after, she emerged, face shining, and announced that she couldn’t wait to read more about young Andi. Even though the books are written for ages 6-8, 12yo Youngest enjoyed our review copy very much. There are five books in the series, and another coming soon. I’m happy to feed this newly awakening appetite for reading with Andi books. They’re on my list of upcoming purchases.

In Andi’s Indian Summer, Andi’s friend Riley fills her head with all sorts of made-up stories about Native Americans, gleaned from a dime novel he’s been reading. (Have you heard of dime novels? They were popular in the 1800s, fictional adventure stories that sensationalized events. The Wild West was a favorite topic for writers.)

Then Andi and Riley get lost, are found by a local tribe, and begin to learn the truth: Native Americans are people, not so different from themselves.

After Youngest read the book and was wandering around the house, enthusing about Andi stories, I suggested that she write a fan email to the author. She did, and a warm correspondence began.

The author has a website where you can meet the characters, download free activity packs to go with the books, work online puzzles and print free coloring pages, as well as buy the books themselves, and lapbooks to go with them.

The Circle C Beginnings supplemental materials can be found here.

Youngest has recommended the Circle C Beginnings and Circle C Adventures books to all her friends. What more can I say?

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Susan Marlow’s books, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were sent a free book from Susan Marlow’s Circle C Beginnings series for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Yesterday’s Classics e-reader bundle

As a true bibliophile, I’m really excited about this one. In truth, I was saving up to buy this item when the Crew got word that we’d have the privilege of reviewing this library! Another plus is the price — this e-book bundle is on sale through the end of May!

Okay, okay, you can tell I’m excited because I’m putting the cart before the horse. After all, why would you be interested in buying something without knowing what it is?

Tell you what. Go to the publisher’s website (Yesterday’s Classics) and check out the books.  You can view them by subject (history, science, literature, for some examples), by author, or by title. You’ll see a brief description for each book, along with a suggested age range. The “Look Inside” link by each book gives you a generous sample of what’s found inside the covers.

225 books. Got that? 225 books, on sale through May 31 for $99.95. That’s about 44 cents a book. And such books!

If wishes were horses…

I wish this collection had been available years ago, when we first stumbled on Charlotte Mason’s methods and the idea of learning using living books. (See the link for a brief explanation of living books, and why you might want to incorporate them into your learning endeavors.)

Actually, a lot of the books are old friends of ours, books we’ve used over the years. I scoured old bookstores, searched the Internet, and put in for Inter-Library Loans in the early days. It got easier as more and more old books were uploaded to the web as e-texts. For the most part it used to be less expensive to print out a copy of a book, than to buy a copy, but ink and toner and paper have been getting more expensive.

Reading from the computer — not my cup of tea

Reading off the computer is tiring (and not recommended by Dr. Art Robinson of the Robinson Curriculum — he’s got some interesting things to say about the topic). I find it tiring, and I’m not too thrilled with assigning the girls reading on the computer unless I’m in the room — too many other distractions available. I’d much rather cuddle together on the couch than have the girls huddle around the bright glow of the monitor, with the computer’s fan humming in the background as I read aloud.


…which brings me to the topic of e-readers. I’ve wanted one for about a year now, ever since a friend showed me her Nook reader. Imagine a whole library in the space of a slim paperback, well, maybe a little bigger than a paperback, but not much.

I finally got a Nook of my own recently. (Can’t tell you how long I vacillated between Nook and Kindle, while also looking at other possibilities. Tough choice.) It’s everything I wanted it to be, and more.

I had downloaded the Yesterday’s Classics library onto my computer, having also downloaded e-reader software, before I made up my mind which e-reader to get. Yes, you can read these books on your computer. No, I’m not giving up my Nook.

I don’t have Nook software on my computer (it seemed redundant with having the Nook) but I do have Kindle for PC. When I load one of the books from the Yesterday’s Classics collection into the Kindle program, I see a color cover (just like what you see on the website catalog), and using the Kindle’s controls I can go to any page, including the Table of Contents. By the way, the chapter titles in the Table of Contents are clickable, taking you right where you want to go in the book.

I’m not quite so well acquainted with my Nook, but I’m learning to get around.

In both formats, the books are nice and clean. (Yes, of course, you say. After all, you can wipe the screen with a microfiber cloth. That’s not quite what I mean.)

I don’t know how many free e-texts you’ve downloaded, but they can be downright dismal. Or comical, depending on how you look at it. It seems that a lot of them have been digitized using Optical Character Readers. With this device, you scan the pages of a book in, and the computer program guesses at the words to the best of its ability. Are you a Horatio Alger fan? There are lots of OCR-rendered books by that author, and we’ve waded through many of them. Have you read Eough and Eeady? Oh, sorry, that title’s actually Rough and Ready. Names and other words can be mangled almost beyond recognition, with odd symbols thrown in here and there, perhaps when the computer threw up its virtual hands and just stuck something in there for no good reason.

So when I say the books are nice and clean, I mean that the text is readable and has been checked for errors. Original illustrations are included as well. (A lot of the free e-texts we’ve used over the years were typed in by volunteers, and don’t contain illustrations.)

Living books curricula

If you’re using Ambleside Online, Heart of Dakota, Living Books Curriculum, or Tapestry of Grace, you’ll find a number of familiar titles in this 225-volume set from Yesterday’s Classics. This set provides educational (and often diverting) reading from the preschool years on. The majority of the books are perfect for elementary school and middle school, but there are a few suited to high school. For those with younger children, this collection is a wonderful bargain.

Special sale through 5/31/2011!

You can buy Yesterday’s Classics as individual softcover printed books (see catalog), as a collection (at a special price of $99.95 through May 31), or as individual e-books.

The collection is available in either Kindle format or ePub format. The books are packaged in a series of large zip files for download, or if you’re on a slower connection, you can download each book individually.

I encourage you to look into this collection, especially if your children are younger. This collection of living books compasses a library that will serve you for years to come.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of this product, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were provided this 225-book collection in the format they requested for their family. This product was provided for personal and review use only. No additional compensation was involved.