Monday, March 30, 2015

U.S. History Detective ~ The Critical Thinking Co.

As a homeschooler, I have always found it difficult to find history curriculums that fit my teaching style and method. I was really excited when The Critical Thinking Co. contacted me to review, U.S. History Detectives ~ Colonial Era to Reconstruction Era (Book One). This particular book is for grades 8-12. U.S. History Detectives is considered a complete curriculum but can also be used to supplement your existing curriculum. 

The mission of the Critical Thinking Co. 

The Critical Thinking committed to developing students' critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life. We do not teach through drill and memorization or teach to the tests - we empower the mind!

When I received the book, I scanned though the pages and immediately loved what I saw. 

Maps, timelines, and pictures throughout the book give the reader visual understanding.

Each lesson includes two or three pages of reading, followed by fill in the blank, multiple choice, and written response questions. For the multiple choice questions, the student is asked to give the sentence in the reading that best supports the answer given. Students must draw inferences and conclusions based on their evaluation of the evidence. They must sort through what is fact verses opinion. By drawing on information in each reading, students will then use evidence to support conclusions in their short essay writing.

Each lesson also includes a Fun Fact Feature and a Fun Fact Finale Examples are:

Fun Fact Feature
The presidential mansion in Washington, D.C. acquired a new nickname after the British burned it during the War of 1812. What do we call this home today?

Fun Fact Finale
The presidential mansion in Washington, D.C. was painted blue before the War of 1812. The shell of the building remained after the British set it on fire during the war. In their haste to repair its smoke damage, American workers used what was easily available - whitewash. The building has been repainted white ever since and is known as the White House. 

There are eight sections and sixty-five lessons in the book that cover the Colonial Era through the Reconstruction. To give you a better idea of the material that is covered, here is a list of the sections:
  • The Colonial Era
  • The Revolutionary Era
  • The Federal Era
  • The Nationalism Era
  • The Reform Era
  • The Expansion Era
  • The Sectional Conflict Era
  • The Civil War Era
  • The Reconstruction Era

Who used it
My 8th grader is an avid reader and absolutely loves history. When approaching the subject of history, I tend to use a classical approach, utilizing books and good literature, verses the typical textbook approach. My son is in the process of working through The Critical Thinking Co., World History Detectives Book 1, and is really enjoying it. The information he is gleaning from this curriculum is the perfect complement to his stack of history books currently being used for history. He was eager to start working through, U.S. History Detective. The time period, Colonial through the Reconstruction, is one of his favorite periods of history to study.

My son really enjoys the lessons and frequently comes to tell me about things he has read. This opens the opportunity for some great discussions. I encourage my son to highlight and take notes in the margins of the book. He has learned a great deal of information from the readings. Applying he prior knowledge along with the newly acquired information, he is easily able to complete the "work" part of each lesson. 

My son said,

"I guess learning history from a textbook does not always have to be downright boring. This is pretty good." 

My thoughts
I would highly recommend this book to fellow homeschoolers and educators. Not only will your child learn history but they will develop great critical thinking skills in the process. Anytime you can "kill two birds with one stone", that is a plus in my book. The lessons are well written and chock-full of historical information without fluff. If you have been searching for a comprehensive history curriculum, look no further. I will continue to use other materials by The Critical Thinking Co..

A great offer from The Critical Thinking Company.

15% Off Any Size Order!
Details: Offer expires 5/31/2015 at Midnight PST. Use Coupon Code BLOGR315. Online prepaid orders only. Valid one per customer. Offer does not apply to iOS or Android apps, or manipulatives such as Attribute Blocks, Interlocking Cubes or Pattern Blocks. Offer may not be combined with other discounts or offers, and is not retroactive. Not valid on wholesale orders.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Last night my oldest daughter performed in a Spring Concert for charity. Watching your child find their love and passion is truly one of my greatest joys as a mother. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thick as Thieves

My daughters and I had the privilege of reviewing a book for Kregel Publications, Circle C Milestones series entitled, Thick as Thieves. Author Susan K. Marlow has been bringing Andi Carter, the main character, to readers through her books and continues to share her love for writing by introducing, Thick as Thieves, Book 1 in her newest series "Circle C. Milestones".

What is the book about
Thick as Thieves is about a teenage girl, Andrea (Andi) Carter, growing up in the 1880's. Andi lives on the Circle C Ranch in California. She faces many challenges but perseveres amidst trials both at home and at school. Andi is over the moon when she finds out that her beloved horse, Taffy, is having twins. This rare event has the whole town buzzing. If you want to know more, you will have to get the book and read it for yourself.

The theme for Thick as Thieves is:
Unselfishly Giving Support And
Expressing Compassion To Another

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another,

love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.
I Peter 3:8

Who read Thick as Thieves
Two of my daughters, ages 8 and 12, read this book. I also had to get in on their excitement by reading the book for myself. When the book first arrived, my daughter's argued about who would get to read the book first. Neither could wait for the other to get done with the book so they ended up reading it at the same time. It didn't take either of them long to read the book. Believe it or not, one particular day I had to set a timer because they both wanted the book at the same time. 

My 12 year old's thoughts on the book
The book was so good and it was hard to put down.
I asked my daughter to write a small report on the book and this is what she wrote,

"The book, Thick as Thieves, is about a girl named Andrea (Andi) Carter who just wanted to ride her palomino, Taffy, and hang out with her newborn colts, Shasta and Sunny. When she goes to school she finds herself seated next to a roughneck named Macy. Later in the book Andi somehow tames Macy so that instead of punching people and stealing dolls she rides on Taffy and plays with the colts. 
There's a cattle rustling problem on the Carter family ranch. It turn out that Macy's crude brothers are the culprits. When they steal Shasta and Sunny, Andi is forced to trust Macy to help her. During the rescue mission Andi twists her ankle and is forced to send Taffy and the colts home without her. Andi gets caught by Macy's brothers but when they are sleeping, Andi and Macy make it out and are rescued."

My 8 year old's thoughts on the book

My daughter said, "Of course I loved the book because I love horses. Is this book in a series because I need them all?" 
I had my daughter write a report and this is what she wrote, 

"I loved this book because it is a great book. I liked it because at first when there was a new girl at school she was really mean and then Andi stood up to Macy and they became friends. At the end of the book someone started taking their cattle then they stole the colts!!!!!! The next day Macy came to warn Andi because her mean brothers were the cattle rustlers. And had to save her colts at Rock Canyon. After that her life was changed."

My thoughts
Do you want to know a secret? I enjoyed reading this book. The book was well written. Each chapter begins with one of Andi's diary entries which gave the book a more personal feeling. Marlow brings to her books a Christian worldview that teaches great lessons and is WHOLESOME for the whole family. Andi is definitely a no-frills tomboy that will keep even boys satisfied. Thick as Thieves is filled with adventure and valuable lessons.

Here is an excerpt of one of Andi's journal entries.

"How can you be a friend to someone who doesn't want to be your friend?"

Thick as Thieves Study Guide with Enrichment Activities
Wow, where do I even begin. The study guide is AMAZING!!! I worked through the guide with my 8 year old daughter. My 12 year old daughter worked through the guide on her own. Some of the great things included in the guide are:
  • character sketches
  • digging deeper questions
  • vocabulary and grammar
  • crossword puzzles
  • scripture memory
  • story questions
  • timelines
  • snippets from Andi's journal
  • activity suggestions
  • historical background 

Both of my daughter's enjoyed the activities. My 12 year old loved the extra Historical Background Readings that were included in the guide. She also had a lot of fun writing "A Lousy Poem" about lice. 

One lice, two lice. Finding them is not real nice. 
A half-grown nit was once a fit. 
If your head starts to itch, you know you've been hit.

My 8 year old learned many new words such as concoction, quipped, capricious, stifling, limpid, and impudent. My daughter also like the cutting and pasting, Foal Training Timeline activity. 

Illustrating the barn sense with Taffy and her colts. 

Learning can be fun!!

Final Thoughts
If you are looking for wholesome reading for your child or children definitely check out the listing of all of Susan K. Marlow's books here. You can also visit Andi's Blog to read about Ranch News, Andi's Family, and much more. 

Social Media: 

To read more reviews click HERE.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The King and I

This week our family had the opportunity to see The King and I. The performance was AMAZING!!! 

"East versus West makes for a dramatic, richly textured and ultimately uplifting tale of enormous fascination. It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, having been summoned by the King to serve as tutor to his many children and wives. The King is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna's assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story. Along with the dazzling score, the incomparable Jerome Robbins ballet, 'The Small House of Uncle Thomas,' is one of the all-time marvels of the musical stage."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Understanding Algebra I ~ The Critical Thinking Co.

Math can often be one of the most challenging subjects for a homeschooler to teach. The Critical Thinking Co. makes learning math a bit easier with their book, Understanding Algebra I. This book is for grades 7-9.

The mission of the Critical Thinking Co. 

The Critical Thinking committed to developing students' critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life. We do not teach through drill and memorization or teach to the tests - we empower the mind!

I will be totally honest, math was never an easy subject for me. I was not really good at math and I am not really good at teaching it. When The Critical Thinking Co. asked if I would like to review this particular book I jumped at the chance. You may be wondering, why? Well, let me tell you. I have six children and in my many years of homeschooling I have found that what works with one child, doesn't necessarily work for another. I have found this to be true especially for math. Math is one of those subjects that some have a natural bent towards understanding while others struggle to just grasp each concept. I am currently using three different math curriculums for just this reason.

What is Algebra?
Well, the Critical Thinking Co. explains this in the beginning of the book. Algebra is generalized arithmetic. Algebra is a powerful tool. The word "algebra" is a Latin variation of the Arabic word "al-jabr," which is taken from the title of a book written around AD 825 by the Arab mathematician known as al-Khwarizmi. The first step in understand algebra is to review concepts from our system of numbers and learn the proper use of set notation. Algebra also involves learning how to change patterns into equations to predict outcomes.

What the book covers:
  • Our Number System ~ Sets, Operations, and Properties
  • Evaluating Expressions and Solving Equations
  • From Words to Algebra ~ Translating and Solving Word Problems 
  • From Words to Algebra ~ More Word Problems
  • Inequalities ~ Compound Inequalities, and Absolute Value
  • Polynomials
  • Factoring
  • Working with Radicals
  • Linear Functions
  • Systems of Equations and Inequalities
  • Other Types of Functions
  • Working with Algebraic Fractions 
The book includes a glossary of terms, an answer key, and a reference page of formulas. There are two poems included in the book which add a bit of fun. The first poem is Arithmetic by Carl Sandburg and the second poem is Algebra by T. Husted. These poems are definitely worth reading. 

Who used this book
I currently have one child in Algebra I and two that have already completed it. I asked them to tell me what they thought about, Understanding Algebra I. I also have three children who are not yet at this level, so I studied, reviewed, and tried out some of the lessons for myself. This book may just be the perfect fit for one of them in the near future.

My 18 year old said that she liked it and it would have been a good fit for her. 
She completed Calculus before graduating high school and is one of my kids that "gets" math.

My 15 year old said that there was no way that she could have used this.
My daughter is currently in Geometry and struggling. She just doesn't "get" math. Algebra I was challenging and the thought of Algebra II this next year is frightening for her to even think about. She needs a math curriculum that is either taught by someone or is on the computer, where it is verbally explained in greater detail.

My 14 year old said that he wasn't sure if he would be able to do it without help.
My son is currently in Algebra I and is using a computer based math curriculum. This book may have been an option for him. He is kind of in between, in that math isn't his strongest subject but he does seem to grasp mathematical concepts on his own.

What I thought
I think that The Critical Thinking Co. did a great job with this book. The lessons are long enough to make sure that the student grasps the material but not so long that they feel overwhelmed. Some math books are intimidating and you see that "deer in the headlights" look on your child's face. This book does not give that gloom and doom feeling. The lesson explanations are thorough and easy to understand. I will say, that for those that stumble through math, it would probably be very helpful to have someone available that is mathematically minded to further explain the concepts. The quantity of problems in each lesson, are sufficient enough to grasp the concepts without over doing it. If you are searching for an Algebra I course, this is definitely worth checking out. 

A great offer from The Critical Thinking Company.

15% Off Any Size Order!
Details: Offer expires 5/31/2015 at Midnight PST. Use Coupon Code BLOGR315. Online prepaid orders only. Valid one per customer. Offer does not apply to iOS or Android apps, or manipulatives such as Attribute Blocks, Interlocking Cubes or Pattern Blocks. Offer may not be combined with other discounts or offers, and is not retroactive. Not valid on wholesale orders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Special Spaces DFW

About two months ago I was contacted by someone with Special Spaces, specifically Special Spaces Dallas-Ft.Worth. My daughter was nominated for a room makeover. 

Mission Statement
"Our mission is simple but zealous… 
We create dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening medical illnesses. This is a place that only the child can dream or imagine while addressing their medical needs. Our focus is answering one question; Where does a child go when battling a serious illness to find peace and comfort?
Special Spaces was founded in July 2004 on the precedent that children battling life-threatening illnesses need their own special space. This is a place of hope and inspiration, and a special space to find peace and comfort. 
As of today, Special Spaces has created hundreds of bedrooms across the country. It is the vision of our organization to have a Special Spaces Director everywhere there is a child in need."

I am honored that my daughter will be blessed with this amazing gift.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homeschooling and Hospital Admissions

Often times I feel like our life revolves around medical rather than educational. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. This week one of the kiddos has a planned hospital admission which means I will not be home. We have learned to go with the flow and be creative in our temporary hiccup.

For the older kiddos that are in middle or high school my absence is not that big of a deal. They are pretty much self sufficient when it comes to academics. They keep up on their co-op classes and other work on their own. Daddy is always available for help.

For the little's this means stopping our regular homeschooling routine and focus in on multiplication memorization, writing, reading books, poem memorization, library time, and hands on activities. One lucky kiddo will be with grandma which will mean getting to help cook, bake, and garden.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The First Day Of Spring

Happy Spring 2015

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.

Where man sees but withered leaves,
God sees sweet flowers growing.
~Albert Laighton

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintery rest.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I had the opportunity to review GPALOVEMATH™ by GPA LEARN.  This is an online self paced math curriculum. GPA Learn meets the CCSSM standards for K-5.

Each grade contains a scope and sequence, comprising the math skills and concepts covered in each grade. GPA LEARN has a private, parent controlled social network to enable both parent and student to connect with others using the curriculum. In order to keep your child motivated, there is a reward system to track your child's accomplishments as they complete the lessons.

The site is very user friendly. Both of my children were able to navigate through their lessons with relative ease. The graphics were definitely fantastic and captivating for a child. 

The student has a dashboard that includes the following items:
  • lesson summary
  • motivate rewards
  • progress tracker
  • week in focus
  • engage activity
I currently have a 1st and 3rd grader so I began the program using my children's current grade levels in math which are 2nd and 4th grade, respectively.

Each grade level offers two layout options; concept categories or recommended order. In the concept category option, the educator or parent is able to choice which concepts and lessons they want their student to do. The recommended order option follows a pre-guided order of concepts.

Each lesson has an explanation/lecture section, example problems, practice problems and lesson problems as well as quizzes to test your child's grasp of the material. There is an added story dialogue in the lessons to make the lessons more engaging. The parent has the option to "test drive" a lesson before the student actually does the lesson.

What my 1st Grader thought
My 1st grader's response during and after the first lesson was, "Mom, she talks funny and way too fast. She talks way too much too. What is she even talking about? Mommy she is hard to understand." Working through the lessons were quite tedious for my daughter. The concepts taught were appropriate for the grade level and provided a good supplement for her current math curriculum. She was able to navigate the 2nd grade site section and complete lessons on her own with minimal help from me. 

What my 3rd Grader thought
My 3rd grader was not a fan of this math either. She had similar complaints to that of my 1st grader. My 3rd grader also started bypassing the explanation/lecture part and going straight to the lesson itself. I think that this program helped to reinforce concepts that she is currently finding difficultly with in her current math curriculum. I gave her the freedom to skip around in the 4th grade sections and work on the material that interested her.  Allowing her to have this freedom, helped her stay engaged. 

My solution
After weeks of struggling through this math the light bulb in my mommy head went off and I found the solution for what works better for us. By bypassing the explanation/lecture part of the lesson and going directly to the practice and lesson problems, this program became much more enjoyable. My daughter began working through the lessons and came to me if she had questions. Many of the concepts and skills are ones that she has either already learned or is currently learning, so this worked great for us. 

My Thoughts
In my opinion, the lesson explanation/lecture part of each lesson are too wordy, long, and talked over the understanding level of the child. The animated characters that serve as the learning coaches have very robotic voices that at times are very difficult to understand. I echo my daughter's observation that the character coaches talk way too fast. The curriculum rapidly lost my child's attention. The concepts could have been presented in much less time and in a more simplified manner.

The reward system in GPALOVEMATH™ can either be customized or you can take advantage of the auto build list provided. I personally did not care for the rewards system. I prefer to reward my child for their overall academic progress at the end of the school year rather than all along the way. I feel that children today are rewarded way too much for too many things. 

"Children who expect rewards for an activity are less likely to engage in the same activity later than those who were intrinsically motivated." 
(Lepper, Greene and Nisbett, 1973) 

My 1st grader's first auto reward was, staying up a half hour later than normal. The reward store contains such categories as:
  • monetary 
  • tv time
  • outings
  • bed time
  • chores
Parents receive e-mails updating them on their child's progress. This feature is great for the busy homeschool mother that may not have the time to review their child's progress on a daily basis. 

Final Thoughts
Overall, I think that GPALOVEMATH has done a good job in their attempt at making learning math fun. I also believe that this program will be a good fit for some. Personally, this program was not the best fit for our children. If I could rate this curriculum, I would give it a 2 out of 10. I would encourage individuals to check the program out for themselves. In my many years of homeschooling, I have found that what works for one family or child does not necessarily provide a good fit for another. The beauty of learning is having many options to explore until the perfect fit is found. 

Social Media:


To read more reviews click HERE.

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Patrick's Day

What thoughts come to mind when you think of St. Patrick's Day? Do you think about wearing green, parades, parties, and drinking? Did you know that none of these things have anything to do with the true origins of St. Patrick's Day. 

St. Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland. Kidnapped, at the age of 16, by Irish raiders from his homeland in Roman Britain, Patrick was taken to Ireland as a slave. During his enslavement in Ireland as a shepherd, Patrick found the Lord. In a vision the Lord prompted Patrick to flee to the coast where a boat would be waiting to take him home. After arriving home Patrick went on to become a priest. Later, Patrick felt a calling to return to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. 

The History Channel has a great four minute video explaining the history of St. Patrick's Day. 

This site has a good overview of St. Patrick and the history behind St. Patrick's Day. 

St. Patrick is said to have used the three leaves of the Irish clover to explain the Trinity to the unbelieving Irish. The three leaves represent, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The clover has three separate leaves that are all joined together as one. 

St. Patrick died on March 17th and so the day is set aside to commemorate his life. 

There are many good books on St. Patrick's Day on Amazon

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

This weekend we had the opportunity to see, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, at Dallas Children's Theater. Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts did an amazing job at bringing to the stage this beloved Beatrix Potter Tale. This was my children's first puppet show performance. Mr. McGregor was the only live actor in the show. Peter, Mother Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail were puppets with voice characterizations. The scenery was amazing and the garden even came to life. This performance was truly an amazing experience. 

Before the show there were many activities to keep the children entertained.  

Checking out veggies from a local Farmer's Market

Planting seeds in cute little pots


Making Peter Rabbit puppets

Waiting for The Tale of Peter Rabbit puppet show to begin

Confetti Eggs