TOSReview Crew: Apologia Educational Ministries’ Writers in Residence

apologia-logo_jpg_zpswpuj9gxgWhen I first decided to educate my children at home, Debra Bell was the first “homeschooling expert” I heard speak during an online conference. She is very humorous and encouraging in her 20160419_185558 (480x640)talks. Naturally, I was excited to have the opportunity to use her new writing curriculum Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries in my home. Since she successfully home educated her own children, taught high school and university level English, I knew her grammar and writing integrated curriculum would be worth trying out.

Writers in Residence Volume 1 is the first of four in the series and is for grades four through eight. The colorful text is written to the student and is also a workbook. My son was able to use it for all of his rough drafts and for his final writing piece within the first two modules. During our review period we were able to complete the first half of Unit 1. The text is composed of six units  and each unit contains four modules. The workbook, as well as the Answer Key, contained easy to use grading rubrics for his first written assignment (and throughout the curriculum) that was clear and easy for me to use to evaluate his written work.

20160419_185542 (480x640)The first writing assignment was based on the little book “When I Was Young in the Mountains” by Cynthia Rylant. He had several mini assignments to help him free-write his topic and then narrow down to the specific memories he wanted to write about. My favorite revision method of writing the individual sentences on separate strips of paper and then rearranging them into different orders was one of the assignments. The text also guided him in revising his work using specific and descriptive words. My son’s final draft of his memory sentences:

When I Was Young by the Creek

IMG_0968 (521x640)When I was young by the creek, I explored with my family.

When I was young by the creek, I heard and felt the cold, rushing water.

When I was young by the creek, hundreds of kayakers paddled past us in the turbulent water.

When I was young by the creek, we saw water gushing down rock cliffs into little flowing pools.

When I was young by the creek, I climbed upon huge stick piles.

When I was young by the creek, I wrote these verses.

Apologia%20Writers%20in%20Residence_zpsk9klb2vbThis was the only final writing assignment we were able to complete before this review was due. I flipped through the book and saw the next assignment was to learn to write a memorable letter about his future based on the letters exchanged between the characters in “Sarah, Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLauchlan. I love that these writing assignments use excellent literature to teach writing techniques.

Writers in Residence is a Christian curriculum and includes interviews with Christian authors who use the writing technique or process described for each assignment. The six writing tasks for volume one include: sentences, creative writing, research writing, opinion essay, autobiography and a short story. Each of these writing tasks is a separate unit and also includes instruction and review of grammar related to the assignment type. The answers for the grammar pages are in the Answer Key.

20160419_185651 (640x480)As a homeschool mom of four kids this integrated writing and grammar curriculum really appeals to me. Everyone could use this text at the same time while writing and learning at their individual levels. I would not have separate grade level grammar workbooks to mark for each child nor separate writing curriculums to evaluate. This curriculum saves my time and allows us to work and share together. At the end of the school year I would also have six lovely pieces of written work from each child for their portfolios. I think this curriculum is ideal for introducing writing in a positive manner to children and for families who love to learn together.

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Review: Memoria Press Fourth Grade Literature Guide Set


My middle two kiddos are bored with their current reading curriculum. They’ve been begging me to let them abandon their readers and use “real books” instead since the holiday break. They were both thrilled when Memoria Press sent us the entire Fourth Grade Literature Guide Set to review! I was just as delighted as the kids since Memoria Press was on my list of curriculum companies to look into for our next academic year’s literature selections. Sparkles chose to read “The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden and Middle Boy chose “Homer Price” by Robert McCloskey. The other two selection are “The Blue Fairy Book” edited by Andrew Lang and “Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress” arranged by Oliver Hunkin.


The literature for fourth grade only includes four books and that didn’t seem like much at first glance. After studying a sample of 20160229_132729 (480x640) (480x640)the online lesson plan (found on the fourth grade complete curriculum page) I noticed that each book should take about six weeks or so. The goal is for the students to really immerse themselves in the books and comprehend the material.

The Teacher’s Guides:

The guide included tips on how to help students read through the books. They encourage reading the book aloud together, taking turns reading aloud or reading independently. Reviewing the comprehension questions before reading is encouraged to help develop focused reading. We also reviewed the vocabulary words 20160222_080152 (480x640)each day and looked for them in the book. I was happy to see the teacher’s guide point out that some of the comprehension questions could just be answered orally, especially for younger students. Further and deeper discussion of the material is pointed out in the “Quotations and Discussion Questions” section and the back of the teacher’s guide has an answer key for these. The guide also has answers printed on full-sized reproductions of the student workbooks pages, as well as reproducible quizzes and tests.

20160328_192103 (480x640)The Student Study Guides:

The student workbooks are all similar in style and format. Each of these books are broken up differently for study by chapters (Dangerous Journey and Cricket), sections by page numbers (Homer Price) or short story title (Blue Fairy). Some have more drawing exercises than others. Even though they are similar they are not exactly the same.

  • Reading Notes–This section may define a few words, point out literary notes or give more information about a character.
  • Characters–this section was only in “The Dangerous Journey”. The teacher’s guide contained no guidelines for this particular book. My guess is this information is provided in the lessons plans from Memoria Press. However, the workbook answers are provided as well as to the discussion questions.
  • Vocabulary–Sometimes the students look up a brief definition or fill in the blank. The vocabulary words show up in the reviews, quizzes and exam so it is helpful to reviews these.
  • Comprehension Questions–These go over the events of the story. The guide encourages you to help the students write their answers in complete sentences. Sometimes we just went over these orally.
  • Quotations–Not all of the books had this section. Usually the student needed to identify the speaker and we usually discussed why the quote was important to the story. Sometimes I used these for copywork.
  • Discussion Questions–The answer key in the back of the teacher’s guide was very helpful. We generally discussed characters, motives, literary elements, plot development, etc.
  • Enrichment–This section provided a variety of assignments. Sometimes copywork, literary device discussion, drawing, character study, mapwork, etc. My kids liked these since they provided variety to the workbook.
  • Occasionally reviews were included as well as supplemental material at the end of the student guide relating to the book to  aid the student’s understanding or historical/cultural context.

20160328_192428 (480x640)Overall, the kids enjoyed this literature program from Memoria Press and have begged to ditch the old reading program and replace it with these guides. The Student Study Guides are quite thorough and I am very happy to continue using Memoria Press’s literature guides in my homeschool.


Review Addendum:

I just returned from the GHC Convention in Cincinnati. While I was there I stopped by the Memoria Press booth to ask a few questions about “The Dangerous Journey” study guide. In my review above I did not understand the Characters section of the guide. I learned the characters are listed because there are many of them in the story and it is important to understand the meaning of the person’s name. For example, knowing the 20160403_170814 (480x640)meaning of the word pliable aids in comprehending the role of the character with the same name the protagonist encounters. Had I been familiar with the original Pilgrim’s Progress I probably would have figured that out…alas, my education is sorely lacking. Also, the omission of the teacher tips at the beginning of the Teacher’s Guide was simply an omission and will be included in future printings.

I was so impressed by our discussion of the book that I decided to do the study with all of my children and bought additional student study guides and the book. I am looking forward to learning all about Christian’s journey.




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Review: Demme Learning’s Math-U-See


For the past month and a half my oldest has been using Demme Learning’s Math-U-See Pre-Algebra student texts and Digital Packs. I felt fortunate when we received the opportunity for this 20160204_130242 (480x640) (480x640)review since Oldest needed a new math curriculum for his middle and high school years. The two of us began researching various math curriculums together a couple of months ago for his upcoming seventh grade year and Math-U-See was at the top of his list. Now that he is moving into the upper levels of his education I am giving him an opportunity to help choose his own courses.

Math-U-See’s Pre-Algebra is very easy to use and except for a word problem or two has been mostly hands off for me. For the preA-universal_zps7axhc8n4review we received the student text and test book and a full year’s access to the Pre-Algebra Digital Pack. The Digital Pack includes access to the instructional videos, tests and solutions manuals, instructional manual, a digital version of the manipulatives (on Chrome or Safari) and a few other resources. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about the digital pack…at first. I prefer to hold books in my hands. Digital just doesn’t seem real to me. However, having access to the instructional videos online has been really nice. I am the sort of person who absent mindedly misplaces DVD’s and teacher’s manuals all the time (glasses, Pre-Algebra_zpsko8oc4brphone, car keys too!). The nice thing about the Digital Packs is you just can’t lose them. I suppose, I should have some profound and meaningful reason for why digital is better but I do not. The fact that I cannot lose these resources (for a year) is my favorite feature. The videos and pdf’s also pull up easily on my phone so he doesn’t have to wait for someone to finish up on the computer before working on his math.

20160310_103555 (480x640)We did play around with the digital manipulatives a bit. They work great on the computer but Oldest prefers the physical blocks and decimal inserts when he is working on his math.

On Monday Oldest logs in at the Math-U-See website and clinks on “View Digital Packs”. This brings him to the digital product page and he first selects the level or course title from a drop down box. He then has the option to select the lesson number from another drop down box. Once he chooses the lesson the video is shown as well as access to the teacher’s manual and all solutions for the lesson. He usually only watches the lesson once or twice a week, 20160310_102819 (480x640)reads the teacher’s manual and completes all of the worksheets. We go over any problems he missed together using the manipulatives. By the end of the week he is ready for the exam.

Oldest really enjoys his math with Math-U-See and has decided to stick with them for the remainder of his home education years. I like the Digital Packs as well and plan to continue using them. During the time of this review my youngest was ready to begin his math education. He is having a blast with Primer!

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Sunday Journal: Birthday Week and Zoo Expedition

We spent most of the week waiting for the weekend. Middle Boy’s birthday was on Monday but we didn’t celebrate until this weekend with a trip to Cincinnati. Middle Boy requested a trip to the Lego store. All of the kids had saved some of their Christmas money for this trip. I’m glad they enjoyed the shop but I do get a little bored waiting for them to decide which set to purchase. Afterwards we explored downtown and ate lunch at a pizza shop. While waiting for our pizza my husband and I people-watched out the window. We

Sparkles at pizza shop

Sparkles at pizza shop

noticed two individuals who appeared to be homeless. I wondered about their lives and what sort of decisions led to their current existence while my own children munched on their pizza…oblivious to the people passing by outside. During our short walk downtown we encountered another woman who was clearly drugged out of her mind.

walking through downtown

walking through downtown

Large cities like Cincinnati are both fascinating and horrifying all at once. Each large city has a unique stench. My husband assures me that some foreign cities he has visited are for more offensive to the nose. I know I am spoiled and sheltered and am grateful for the life my husband provides for us. I feel so uncomfortable in cities…they are crushing, smothering. There is another feeling but I cannot put a name to it. Maybe I just don’t want to name it.

Painted Dogs

Painted Dogs

We left downtown and headed for the zoo. For Christmas we got a membership to the zoo. I prefer family experiences over material things for Christmas gifts. This was our first trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. Several of the exhibits were closed but we still had a wonderful time together and I forgot the uneasy feelings that downtown impressed upon my thoughts. Sparkles loved all of the wild cats and gushed over the white tigers. My favorite animal was the African Painted Dog. I loved their wild spotty colors and big ears. Those wild dogs were fascinating and so restless, with massive square jaws, powerful and deadly. Death in a pack. Scary but beautiful.

Oldest by the creek

Oldest by the creek

Today we stayed home. We didn’t go to church. After a busy day out around so many people I wasn’t up to a morning at church. My sensitivity to people and excessive stimulus is getting a bit difficult to endure lately. Sometimes people are so exhausting. Please don’t get me wrong, I like being social. People are interesting. However, I need more solitude than before so that I can endure the onslaught on my senses the being social brings. Wednesday was the worst day for me. We went to our first homeschool co-op meeting. For the most part the kids had a great time. Middle Boy hated being rushed in his art class and I can’t blame him for that. How can rushing art be justified? I was a nervous wretch before

found Littlest sleeping in our bed

found Littlest sleeping in our bed

we arrived. I worked in the nursery and truly enjoyed the little children. Afterwards we went to the library and then to the grocery store. By the time we got home my hands were shaking. I wanted to cry and curl up in a ball somewhere in the dark. The strain on my heart physically hurt. I just wanted my husband to come home and hold me. I was too emotionally exhausted to got to church that evening and ended up napping.

I will not be running any errands after co-op. No, no.

Lego Store

Lego Store

The rest of the week was just fine. I received my next two reviews for the TOS Review Crew in the mail: The Dragon and the Raven and the Faith Builders Bible. You can look for those two reviews by the end of the month. So far being part of the Crew has been nice and not too overwhelming.

The folks from Beautiful Feet Books asked me to work with them at the convention again this year. I am looking forward to the work and helping a company I truly believe in. If you attend the GHC in Cincinnati this year then stop by and say hello. I’d love to meet you!

Littlest working on math exercises

Littlest working on math exercises

This kids finished their first online class through Brave Writer this week. I am so happy with the class and will share all about our experience later this week. I highly recommend any of the online writing courses through Brave Writer.

Other than my social anxiety issues our week was fabulous. One of my friends told me that my reactions are completely normal for individuals considered to be “highly sensitive”. Something I pan to look into this week.

Linking up with: Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and Parent Teacher Meet-up.