What kind of homeschooler am I?!

What's Your Homeschool Style
Your Result: Unschool
You believe learning comes naturally and that you're learning 24/7. Many people who don't homeschool don't understand unschooling, but that doesnt mean it's bad. You have little tolerence for curriculums.
Unit Studies
School at home
What's Your Homeschool Style
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That sort of surprises me, although, when I look at our unstructured, go with the flow days/weeks/months, I don't know why it surprises me!  Maybe I'm a closet unschooler and need to just embrace it and quit trying to fit this round peg into a square hole!  

I don't feel like we unschool, since we have structured learning going on - math and LA being the big ones, but I guess the more comfortable I get homeschooling the less I worry about structured content subjects.   When my children are building a go cart/soapbox car out of bed frames and shutters from the neighbors junk pile and discussing how to use the shutters as brakes, then I guess our unstructured learning is doing what I want it to do!  

What I wanted to be when I grew up...(and what I've been up to lately)

Have you ever seen the movie "Secret of My Success" with Michael J. Fox?  I did, waaaay back in the day.  And I wanted to be Michael J. Fox.  The big office, the important job, people adoring you and the office supplies.  Oh...the office supplies!!  Dry erase markers, notebooks, pencils and pads of paper!

Fast forward 10 years (o.k...a few several more than 10!)  I have a big office (my house), a most important job (raising the kiddo's), people who adore me (love my hubby and my children) and now, thanks to homeschooling, office supplies and a justifiable reason to buy them!  Ha!!  Is it possible that the *real* reason I love homeschooling is a never ending need for office supplies and books?!  Maybe that isn't the only real reason we homeschool, but Back to School sales sure help keep me going!

So, what does this have to do with what I've been busy doing lately?!  Just look at this:

Yes, my friends, that is what has been keeping me up late at night and ignoring the laundry!  It's a 3:1 pitch wire binding machine, but I can also use spiral coils *and* ProClick spines.  This is probably the coolest homeschooling purchase ever!!  I cleared the bookshelves of a *lot* of extra curriculum to be able to purchase this, although the website I bought it from was very reasonable and very helpful. 

As much as I love homeschooling supplies, one thing that I have begun to despise were 3-ring binders!  The rings get weird after a time, they all bunch up and fall off the shelf and pages rip out easily.  At least they do in my boy's notebooks!  The binding machine has taken care of that problem.  Math Mammoth printed out, reviews and tests all punched bound and ready to go!  

Phonics Road teacher's manual that is bulky and awkward?!  PR student manual that is also bulky and takes up a ton of space when we are working at the table?  Not anymore, thankyouverymuch!!  I took apart the TM and spiral bound it with a manilla pocket folder in the back for any notes or extra tool cards.  I bound Mr. Fix-It's student book into two parts.  The first part has the Blueprints, Building Codes and Composition sections.  The next book contains all of the "First Readers".  This makes it much easier to store and much, much easier to use!

Mrs. Beers advocates practicing before writing the Blueprints or Building Codes by using a transparency over the worksheet.  We've solved that by just doing all the work on a whiteboard first and then transferring it to the workbook later.  This has been so much nicer than having 3-ring binders falling everywhere!  

Phonics Road Level Two - Two binders for me and 1 very full binder for the kiddo's.  

Now, PR 2 TM in one spiral bound book for me, the Little House Guide in an even smaller bound book.  I bound the kiddo's notebooks with tabs and their Little House study pages in a separate book.  Easier to use, easier to store, easier to grade.  It's like hitting the Staples "Easy" button for our schooling!!  What did take up about 5" of shelf space (not to forget that they always try to topple off the shelf) now takes up about an 1 1/2" of space.  

Next, I took all of my Staples Rewards (Oh, how I *heart* Staples Rewards!  The only thing better than tons of office supplies are tons of FREE office supplies!!) and bought magazine holders.  I just bought the cheap ones and have started organizing all of my newly bound books into holders.  Each of the children have one and then I have my Phonics Road manuals in another.  I have Math Mammoth answer keys in another.  I also have a few for different subjects (History, Science, Art, etc.) and have books like Artistic Pursuits, SOTW activity guide and nature books in those.  The *only* downside to 3-ring binders is the lack of a spine that can tell you at a glance what book it is.  I have overcome this downside by organizing books into magazine holders.  It's easy enough to pull the Nature out and easily find what I am looking for!

I have big, big plans for making my own, nicely bound with pockets and tabs homeschool planner!  I will use my new copy of The Old Schoolhouse planner to create my planner.  Actually, I think I will create a couple of planners/organizers.  One homeschooling one, one kitchen planner and one all purpose planner.  One planner seems to get too big and then I never use it.  The best part of this is that I will easily be able to change things up and customize it as our days go on.  If I find I'm not using a section, I can pull it out and add a different one.  

So...I guess even if things don't quite look the way I thought they would when I was a starry eyed, dreamy teenager, they aren't that much different after all!!  

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson


This has probably been the best review item that I received this year, especially from an inspirational standpoint!  Sure, I have other "booklist" books on my shelf, but this book offers something that none other does...it is written by Sarah Clarkson.  The daughter of homeschooling pioneers Clay and Sally Clarkson, author of Educating the Wholehearted Child.  It has been most encouraging to read Sarah's perspective on excellent books and why they are important because she *lived* it!  Her home, and life, and education were filled with a love of living books and she shares her enthusiasm through the pages of Read for the Heart($17.00).  

Read for the Heart has completely re-energized my commitment to reading more, less TV and computer and a more Charlotte Mason homeschool.  I always overthink and make things waaaaay difficult.  Just the first chapters reminded me that a literature rich childhood=great education and that I don't necessarily *need* all the extras.  I'm working on a list of audiobooks from the library and then pulling stuff off the shelves some of Sarah's suggestions (along with the Kindle full of the YC books) and we're going to start reading.  I have a timeline book that we are going to start filling out.  I'm going to keep some markers in the basket and have the kids write down the book when we read it for our timeline studies.  I'm going to put an atlas in there, too, so we can look up the geography of the area.  

Read for the Heart begins by offering a inspirational reminder of why good, wholesome books are so important to raising well-educated children that love learning.  After you are sufficiently motivated and inspired (like I was) the rest of the book offers 8 chapters of Sarah's favorite books, organized by theme.  My favorite part of each section, isn't necessarily the specific suggestions, but for Sarah's introduction.  She usually starts out by sharing a remembrance of a favorite book, or why she feels that certain types of books offer something good for children.  Each of these introductions gave me food for thought and an excitement to share great books with my kiddo's!   Following the introduction to each section is a compilation of favorite books suggested by Sarah.  For instance, in the Children's Fiction section you will find favorites like "Tuck Everlasting", "Mr. Popper's Penguins", "Caddie Woddlawn" and "Where the Red Fern Grows" along with a short synopsis of each book and any cautionary comments that Sarah felt necessary.  For instance, in "Where the Red Fern Grows" she writes that "...the accidental death of a young boy could be upsetting to children" as a caution.  Others might include notes on magic, how creation is portrayed or any illustrations that might need explained.

If you are needing a bit of a pick-me-up as you wrap up your school year or if you need some encouragement that a living books education will be "enough", then you really must add Read for the Heart to your summer reading list!

Apologia Press offers a sample chapter (HERE) as well as the Table of Contents (HERE) so you can see for yourself what it is like.  Be sure to stop by the TOS Review Crew Blog to see what my Crewmates had to say about their experience with Read for the Heart!


*Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?!

I am going to be linking up with Abbie over at "Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning" for her "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How" Blog Hop.  Next Thursday we'll talk about the "What" of homeschooling!
I will be answering the questions:
Who: Share about who you homeschool. Their ages, grades, and a little about their personalities.
What: What do you use in your homeschool. Curriculums, games, educational shows etc.
 When: What time of day, how many days a week, yearly schedules. 
Where: What parts of your home do you use for school time. Please post pictures of where you school, and of your organization(shelves, boxes, etc.)
Why: Tell us all why you homeschool, and what led you to it.
How: Share what styles of homeschooling you incorporate, your daily schedule, and your favorite homeschooling books. 

This weeks question is "Who".
Here are my students:
Miss J, 11.  She is beautiful, has such a sweet spirit and willingness to help.  Loves all animals, her siblings, reading, crafts, cooking...the list is long.  She is my "idea" girl and is always looking for something fun to do or make!

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Mr. Lego, 9.5.  Funny, funny guy.  Keeper of time and order, builder of lego's, watcher of Pokemon, fixer of french toast (the best!) and Daisy's (the basset) best friend.
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Mr. Fix-It, 6.5.  Whirlwind of activity, builder, dying to be big enough to run the riding lawn mower, Daddy's helper, did I mention whirlwind?!  For all the chaos that seems to find him, he's the first to stop and give a hug and love on his mama!
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Miss Paya, 4yo.  - lovely little mama.  Loves Dora, her baby brother, and her dolls.  Watcher of Mr. Fix-It and boss of Miss J and Mr. Lego.  Protector of Little Bit.  Loves learning new things and can't wait to "do school" like the older kiddo's!
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Little Bit - 14mos.  Boy, oh! boy is he all boy.  Waver of sticks, kicker of balls, laughter personified.  This one is a treat and a ball of fire!
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So, these are the blessings that I've been entrusted with.  They are amazing, teach me something new everyday and drive me to be a better...me!

Considering God's Creating from Eagle's Wings Ed


Eagle's Wings Education Materials has been serving the homeschooling community for nearly 25 years.  They have Bible, Phonics, Math and Science materials.  They have first hand experience raising kiddo's while trying to cover all of the subjects and have written their materials to make the job easier.  We were chosen to review Considering God's Creation science curriculum.  This is meant for 2nd-7th grades.  We received the Teacher's Manual with CD and the Student Workbook ($29.95 for the set).  This is a very economical choice for a science curriculum, since you can photocopy the workbook pages for children in your family, although an extra student workbook is only $13.95.


Miss J quickly ran off with this book as soon as we received it and I didn't see it again for quite some time.  I could have easily used this with all of the children sitting in, but Miss J sort of took it over, so I let her run with it.  She *loved* this curriculum!  She would read the introduction to the lesson in the teacher's manual and then complete the amazing notebooking pages on her own.  Later, I would go over the lessons and we would discuss the biblical side of the lessons.  I really appreciate that this curriculum brings the beauty of God's creation into each lesson!  You can't get away from seeing God's hand in each lesson.  In our family, this is my idea of a perfect science curriculum!  Not too heavy on the messy experiments, not too many long drawn out lessons, a good mix of interesting topics and excellent notebooking pages.  The added bonus that my oldest could take on a lot of it on her own made it even better.  Below are a couple of samples of the pages that she completed.  She worked in a couple of different units, which kept things exciting for her.  Probably a lot more so since I stayed out of it and she was able to work on the things that were the most interesting to her as she wanted too.

Considering God's Creation is an excellent overview of all the areas of study for science.  It follows the order of God's creation, too, so that is pretty cool.  Each area stands alone so it is easy enough to work out of order if necessary.  I felt like there was plenty of information for what I want to teach in the elementary science years, but it also offers "Digging Deeper" assignments to really bring depth to each unit.  There are 9 units covered : Creation, Stars, Sun & Planets, The Earth, Rocks and Minerals, Weather, Plant Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Animal Anatomy & Physiology and Man.  I was really happy with what Miss J accomplished in the time that we reviewed Considering God's Creation and we will probably continue to use it as things strike Miss J's fancy.  She really, really loved working with the notebooking pages!

Be sure to stop by the TOS Review Crew blog to see what my Crewmates had to say about their experience with Considering God's Creation!

*Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

I'm here, really, I am!!!

Good grief!!  I really am here, I really do have lots to talk about and say, I have about 10 draft posts waiting for me to have a free minute, edit them and get them posted, so my blog doesn't look like a big homeschool vendor hall,  but it has been nutty, nut, nutty around here!!

My baby brother got married this weekend.  Sniff, sniff.  He was 12 when I got married.  I was 21, almost 22 when I got married.  How is it possible that my little, in middle school when I got married, brother now old enough to get married.  And he's 5 years older than I was when I got married!

The wedding was beautiful.  My new sister-in-law is a doll and I am so thankful that my brother found someone so wonderful to share his life with.  I made a killer grooms cake that I will post pictures of, as soon as I can get them onto the computer.

Oh, we brought home 8 Bourbon Red turkey chicks.  Bless their hearts...they are so cute, but not the quickest chicks in the yard.

My basset hound thinks chasing and then killing our chickens is a fun sport.  Me, not so much.  Mr. Lego, who lives to make this said basset hound happy is heartbroken that his beloved dog is so naughty.  This has given us lots of opportunities to discuss why obeying is important and how sad we feel when he doesn't make right choices.  This speaks to him in a way that hours of me talking couldn't have done, so for that I am thankful.  Losing my 2 guineas and 3 hens better be worth the life lessons!

Oh...I have a binding machine.  I was able to sell some of my not used so much curriculum and buy a binding machine.  Then several other homeschooling mama's went in with me to buy supplies.  I am a binding machine, paper punching, spiral winding fool these days.  Did you know that organizing/cutting/binding curriculum can be as much fun as researching new curriculum?!  Curriculum junkie status just may be a thing of the past, office supply junkie status may be going up several notches.

Two more reviews and I will have completed my duties for the TOS Review Crew for this year!

Traveling 10+ hours in a vehicle with 5 children and a husband is not my favorite thing.  At one point (about 40 miles, but feels like 500 miles) from our destination I just barely resisted the urge to throw myself out of the van.  I swore we were driving into the twilight zone!!  Honestly, the kiddo's are the. best. traveler's. ever.  Truly, they are gems, but still, there just isn't anything fun about being in a van for 10+ hours.

Traveling 10+ hours in a vehicle with only 1 child and husband because grandma is keeping the older's for a week is a totally different experience.  Yeah...kids at Grandma's for a whole week.  I really hope my husband doesn't expect me to cook or anything.

We are expecting 3 bee hives the end of the week.  My husband is walking around in his new bee suit.  He's rocking' it.  Ok...so I won't cook, but I will help him prepare for beekeeping chores.

God is so good!  Our dear friends in Joplin, MO were spared their lives, however two families lost their homes.  More bad weather is expected tomorrow, so please pray for some relief!!

There is a lot more rambling 'round, but it will have to wait.  It's late, I'm exhausted from riding in a car all day and I really want to be up, bright eyed and bushy tailed for all my list of projects I want to finish before my time is no longer my own.  Little Bit and I are going to have so much fun this week!

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Pearson Education - enVision Math 1st grade


Our family was chosen to review enVisionMath by Pearson Education.  They create materials for public schools and author several brands like Prentice Hall, Scott Foresman and Addison Wesley.  Like other curricula created for schools, there can be some value for homeschoolers as well.


We received the student workbook for enVision Math 1st grade ($34.95).  This is a very large 11x17" book with colorful pages that are printed on a newsprint type paper.  Except for some games and readiness pages, most are printed so they may be folded in half to create a little "newspaper" of math activities.  I used this curriculum with Mr. Fix-It.  He is currently in Kindergarten, but was easily able to complete the beginning units of enVision Math.  The scope & sequence can be found on the Pearson education website and this might be a really good choice if you have to follow a more traditional S&S for reporting purposes.


The enVisionMath student book contains 20 topics with various activities, for approximately 140 lessons.  There is a color coded chart that shows what concept will be worked on in each lesson.  Number and Operations (blue), Algebra (pink), Geometry (purple), Measurement (orange), Data Analysis (green) and Problem Solving activities.  Each topic contains a short game, several activity pages, a test and reteaching pages.  From looking over the workbook, it does cover money, shapes, subtraction, addition, measurement, less than and greater than.

Mr. Fix-It love that it was bright and colorful and that he could easily finish a lesson in no-time (at least the ones in the beginning of the book).  Unfortunately, we weren't given access to a teacher's manual or guide, so it was really difficult to know exactly how to use the program.  The beginning of each lesson has "home activities", but without the teacher's guide, we didn't know how to complete the activities.    I do like how they use a ten-frame to show numbers.  Mr. Fix-It quickly figured out that the top row was 5 and that could start counting from 5 to figure out how many were in the frame.

The materials are gorgeous and I did like having the little "newspaper" to pull out for the lesson each day (makes it seem much less intimidating for my Wiggly guy).  I would have liked to see the teacher's materials or guide so I could have gotten a better feel for how the program was supposed to be taught.  I will continue to use the lessons as a re-enforcement for our regular math curriculum.  I am hopeful that Pearson will make an area on their website that is more homeschool friendly so a person can easily find what is necessary for each grade level materials.

Be sure to stop by the TOS Crew Blog to see what others had to say about their experience with enVisionMath!!


*Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

Wordy Qwerty by Talking Fingers


Last fall our family was able to review "Read, Write and Type".  You can read my thoughts on that program HERE.   Mr. Lego and Mr. Fix-It have continued using RWT in between other review items  and have continued to enjoy the program.  I have been pleased with their progress as well.  I was excited when we were chosen to review the online version of  Wordy Qwerty, since we've enjoyed Read, Write and Type so much.  Wordy Qwerty is the follow-up program to Read, Write and Type to expand students spelling skills.  Wordy Qwerty is available as an online version (starting at $25 for 1 user for a 5 year license) or as a CD-ROM ($35).


After completing the Read, Write and Type software, most children will be able to write anything they want, however their spelling may be a little "creative".  This is where Wordy Qwerty steps in to complete the journey started in Read, Write and Type.  Over 20 lessons cover most common patterns and rules of spelling.  There are 4 steps to each lesson.  First, the students spell the words that are dictated by the program.  I *love* using dictation to teach spelling.  Then, there is a rule sung that explains why the student is spelling words the way they are.  Mr. Lego enjoyed the songs and he was excited when he would come across a song that was similar to the rule tunes we have been learning in our main spelling program.
After learning and singing along with the song, the computer reads a bit of a story and then dictates a short sentence for the student to type.  The first sentence, it helps the student by reminding them how to spell a word, by telling them what to type next.  Then, the student is left to type the sentence with no prompts for spelling.  Mr. Fix-It would have much preferred to have those extra prompts.  Then, there is a homophone list, with the students deciding which words are real words or not.  There is also a quick section of "word pop" where a sentence is read to the student and then they have to quickly pop the balloons that contain each word of the sentence in order.  This moves faster than my struggling reader can read, but he doesn't seem to mind the challenge.  The final lesson is the reading portion where the student clicks on the word that makes the most sense in the sentence.  This was where things sort of fell apart for Mr. Fix-It.  Since I didn't always supervise him as he did his lessons on Wordy Qwerty, he figured out that he could click on the word until it showed green and move him to the next section.  He would speed through this section and not score very high, but I didn't know this until I would log in to the parent account and check on his progress.

I do really like what Wordy Qwerty is teaching.  There are a few things that would make it even better, IMO, like an email alert when a child isn't getting a passing grade.  I also wish that it wouldn't let them complete a level and move forward if they didn't show mastery of that particular activity.  However, with more parental supervision, this has been an excellent supplement to our main phonics and spelling program, not only because my children enjoy it, but because it incorporates dictation, phonograms and spelling rules into the spelling program.  These are all things that are crucial to building strong spelling skills.  This has been perfect for re-enforcing what we are doing with our main spelling program and I will continue to use it in our homeschool.

Be sure to stop by the TOS Review Crew Blog to see what my crewmates have though of their experience with Wordy Qwerty!


*Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

Mad Dog Math


You really can't get by in upper mathematics without the ability to quickly recall basic math facts.  If addition facts don't come easily, then subtraction will be difficult.  The same is true for multiplication and division as well.  Mad Dog Math was created by a veteran school teacher, Julie for use in her classroom over 25 years ago to help children master their basic math facts.  Originally a pencil and paper drill series, it has now come to the digital age in a software version.  We were given a trial version of the software to review.  It is available to purchase for $19.99 - $39.99 depending on how many years you want the license.  


Installation of the software was simple enough and in no time we were able to get started, although it is available for Windows systems only.  (I will be excited when they offer an online version that we can access from our MAC!)  After logging in, my children were ready to go.  I used this with my older two kiddo's, with my K'er is anxiously waiting to be able to play.  Gotta love anything with Dogs that makes math more fun!

The company suggests using Mad Dog Math for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  We weren't always that consistent, although having a computer based math facts program is way easier to get completed than if the children were counting on me to sit down with each of them for 10 minutes of flashcard drill.

One feature of Mad Dog Math that I really liked and that my daughter did as well, is that the facts are broken down into smaller groups.  This makes it much easier to pass one club, earn a Club sticker and move to the next club.  Each day a set of facts was picked (say 12-18) and they would do a timed drill of all facts with those numbers.  If they passed, they can move on to the next group.  If they do not pass, then they will re-do that timed test the next day.  You click on the "Fetch" bone and it will fetch a new set of problems to learn.   The creator of the software suggests teaching one level of Mad Dog Math for each school year.  So, Level 1 which covers addition and subtraction beginning with the 0-3 facts.  After progressing through Level 1 with lots of repetition and review built in, then the student will move to Level 2.  This also contains more addition and subtraction but it begins with the 0-6 facts.  Level 3 is multiplication and division starting with the 2 facts and covering 0-12 facts by the end of the level.  It also contains a lot of built-in review.  My favorite level (I created a log-in for me) was the Challenge level.  Instead of "worksheets" with 20-24 vertical math problems on it, this has 24 problems, but different pieces of the problem are missing.  So, it might read ? - 6 = 4, then the next problem would be something like 4 + ? = 11.  I love that they aren't written in standard form.  My kiddo's didn't make it that far, but we did play around with that level a little bit without being logged in.

My children didn't mind Mad Dog Math and the instant feedback and the receiving of "Club Stickers" was pretty neat.  I like that it starts of with small pieces of facts, especially as I have a little guy coming up the ranks that will only know the +1's, +2's, +3's at first, then learning the +4's and so on. One thing that was a bit frustrating was that it didn't have a pull-down menu to pick which student you wanted to log-in at a time.  Instead, you just click the green paw to log-in and type in your name.  If you mistype it the first time, then Ruff (that's the mascot) won't remember who you are or what your current scores are and you'll have to start over.  Mr. Lego man always enjoys being timed to see how quickly he finished a set of facts.  That same feature isn't Miss J's favorite!  ;-)

There is a progress bone that you can click to see exactly which facts have been mastered and which ones still need work.  This was encouraging to see the little boxes all start to get checked off!


Mad Dog Math offers a free trial, so be sure to stop by their website and try it out!  Also, stop by the TOS Review Crew blog to see what my Crewmates had to say aboutMad Dog Math!!

**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

Bright Ideas Press' "WonderMaps"

Bright Ideas Press Logo

Amazing!  That's the first thing I thought when I received Bright Ideas Press' new product, WonderMaps ($49.95).  My daughter was even more excited and has spend a fair amount of time navigating her way around the 350+ customizable maps that are available with WonderMaps, and having a ball!  She just finished a geography class at her co-op and now has an immense interest in maps. WonderMaps has certainly kept the interest high! 

opening page

WonderMaps is completely unlike any other mapping software or product I've ever seen.  Each map has a series of layers, so you can add or take away as much information as you want.  If you want to start by showing all parts of a map, country outlines, state outlines, rivers, lakes etc., then you just add those "layers".  If you want to create a quiz map for your children, then you can take away all the extra "layers" and have them fill it in themselves.  There are indexes of each section of maps, so it is easy to navigate around and find exactly what map you are looking for.

WonderMaps has four different sections:

  • The World Continents, Regions and Nations
  • The United States of America
  • Historical Maps
  • Thematic Maps


WonderMaps includes:

  • 60+ maps of the world
  • 60+ maps of the USA
  • 125 historical maps, including 25 biblical maps
  • The complete map sets from The Mystery of History vols. I–III and All American Historyvols. I & II

 I am knee deep in planning next school year for the kiddo's and this has been an excellent resource to be able to refer to and print maps for our studies. We are going to be studying both American History as well as spending some time brushing up on our States & Capitals.  WonderMaps has been able to provide the all the maps, in all the variations that I want for our studies.  I have also found myself using it for my bible study as well.  This will be an especially helpful resource for those who use The Mystery of History and All American History, as it includes all of the maps for those studies.

To really understand the way the program works, you must watch the video above.  Bright Ideas Press has created an excellent tutorial that will explain the details, much better than I can!!   I have found this to be a valuable resource in our homeschool and our family will be referring and using it often through our homeschooling years.  Be sure to stop by the Homeschool Crew Blog to see what my Crewmates thought of their experience with WonderMaps.

**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.

Institute for Excellence in Writing - Student Writing Intensive Level A


Where do I start?!  This is one of those reviews that I have *so* much to say about, it would really be better if we could sit down with a cup of coffee, some chocolate and have a nice chat!  Instead, I'll try my best to not be too wordy, give you the nitty gritty and hopefully give you a good enough idea of if this is something that will work for your family.
I'm sure if you've been homeschooling long enough that the words "IEW" or "TWSS" or "Structure and Style" or Andrew Pudewa are not new to you.  I'm also pretty sure that some of you may have taken one look at the IEW catalog and thought...whoa?! that looks a little overwhelming.  At least that's what I have done the last several years that the IEW "magalog" has shown up in my mailbox!  You see, I heard a lot about IEW and their products over the last couple of years, but I hadn't actually been able to see them in person or better yet, use them!  Now, however, that is not the case and I am thrilled with what I've discovered about IEW!!  I received the Student Writing Intensive Level A (SWI-A $99), the Portable Wall ($7) and the Structure and Style Overview DVD ($10) to review.  If you haven't heard of IEW before, read on and then click HERE!

The Institue of Excellence in Writing has been in business since 1995.  From their magalog, they state they are "in the business of equipping teachers with methods and materials to aid them in training their students to become confident and competent communicators."  I have found that to be true in using SWI-A and spending copius amounts of time on their website, Excellence In Writing, and more recently soaking up information on their very active yahoo group, IEWFamilies.  They are very generous with their knowledge, have many articles available on their website and Jill Pike, one of their staff members, is often available on the IEWFamilies loop to answer questions.  If you sign up for their Magalog, you will get the download information for 2 FREE audio seminars titled "Freedomship Education Paradigm" and "Grammar and Editing Skills".  They offer an unconditional, no time limit 100% Full Refund guarantee on everything they sell if it is purchased from them.  So, you really, really can't lose by trying out some of their products!  I'm sure the reason they can offer such a guarantee, is because after using their products, you won't want to return it!!


The Student Writing Intensive Level A is a DVD writing course taught directly to the student by Andrew Pudewa.  These DVD sessions follow the same structural models and techniques in the "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style", however, Andrew Pudewa does the teaching and you do the facilitating of the writing process.  You become Editor-in-Chief of your homeschool!  SWI-A contains: four DVD's, a binder with dividers for the students' work, and a teacher packet with notes, handouts for the student and checklists.  Student Writing Intensive is available in 3 levels, Level A (grades 3-5), Level B (grades 6-8) and Level C (grades 9-12).  It has 15 lessons, each meant to be completed in 1-2 weeks, so you can easily complete this in one school year.

Structure and Style Overview DVD with Andrew Pudewa and accompanying handouts is nearly 2.5 hours long and is an excellent introduction to the method used in "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style"(TWSS).  It briefly covers the 9 units of structure and introduces several stylistic techniques.  This really helped me see where the program was headed, how we were going to get there and why we were doing things the way we were.  I highly recommend this!

Portable Walls are a writing station for students to use at their desk is packed with Unit Models, Stylistic Techniques and various word lists.  Another handy thing to have, although I don't know that it is vitally important.

A Sample Writing 

This is a sample of my daughter's writing from one of the first lessons.  She dictated it to me and I did the physical writing.  This is done from a Key Word Outline.  As I am re-reading it, I can see that she forgot to include the "which" clause.  My editing/teaching skill weren't up to par that day!  

The Tarantula

The tarantula is the largest spider in the world.  The tarantula was portrayed in movies as dangerous but do not harm humans.  It lives most of its life in underground burrows.  They lay by the entrance to their burrow waiting for small insects and animals.  Male tarantulas look for adult female burrows during mating season.  Males live 10 to 11 years and die after mating.  Females live 25 years or more.  Females can mate several times in their life.  

What Do I Think?!

First, a little background.  I used this with Mr. Lego (3rd grade) and Miss J(5th grade).  They are both struggling writers and spellers.  Mr. Lego is a struggling reader, as well.  When we first received the materials (which BTW, how has it possibly been 6 months already?!) I watched the Structure and Style Overview DVD, poured over the Packet from SWI-A and sketched out a rough schedule of how I wanted to proceed with the course.  The key to IEW is mastery, so as to make the student internalize the rules and tools of writing so completely that the process becomes automatic and doesn't have to be thought about.  We watched the DVD lesson, following the suggestions in the student packet for how to structure each day.  We ended up taking longer for each lesson than two weeks, but part of that is my fault (consistency is not my strong suit) and while Mr. Pudewa does encourage students to just write and have the Editor-in-Chief (that's me!) edit later, that has been difficult for Miss J to do.  With a lot of practice, she is getting a lot better about writing first, editing later, but it is a process.  For Mr. Lego, although he really enjoyed the lessons we completed, because of his reading/spelling struggles the process of writing has been difficult for him.  I am glad that he has had this good experience and I fully expect the process of writing to be much easier for him next fall as he has matured a bit more.  In hindsight, because of the program I use to teach Language Arts and Mr. Lego's abilities, I probably wouldn't begin this program with a 3rd grader again.  However, this picks up perfectly where my LA program stops in 5th grade, so I am even more thankful to have discovered it!  

SWI-A was created for parents who need a pick up and go, teach my kiddo writing course that do not want to find source materials on their own time or do the teaching directly.  If that is you, then SWI-A is the perfect way to teach writing and an excellent way to be introduced to "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style".  I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to use this first.  In fact, when we first were chosen for the review, I was so relieved that I didn't receive the TWSS-SWI combo pack, since I couldn't imagine watching all the DVD seminars in the TWSS.  Just goes to show you what I know! ;-)  Now, 6 months later, after trying to complete our regular studies that have writing assignments *and* trying to stay on top of getting through SWI-A, I would have loved to be able to learn the method taught in the TWSS and use those methods to teach writing "across the curriculum!"  In fact, as I plan our studies for this fall, I am planning on purchasing the TWSS to use to teach writing using our regular curriculum for our source materials!  This will really streamline our day and create the writing environment that I have always envisioned, but never quite grasped how to create.  Thank you IEW!! I spent a lot of time at the IEW booth at our local homeschool convention and asked them if what I want to do will actually work and they assured me that TWSS was created just for this purpose!  It is used to teach the teacher and as I become more comfortable in my role as mother/teacher, I really appreciate materials that help me become a better teacher, not just tell me what to do every day.  Imagine...being able to use the (living) books we are already reading and create a comprehensive writing program.

I loved our first experience with IEW.  Anything that has my 9 year old, reluctant reader and writer saying "Hey, mom, this is pretty cool, can we watch him again?!" is an A+++ in my book.  Anything that encourages my daughter to just write and tells her that I can be the editor is a winner in my book as well.  My IEW wish list has gotten considerably longer and what I used to think "eeek...that's overwhelming" now makes perfect sense and I *finally* feel comfortable with teaching writing!

Don't forget to stop by the TOS Review Crew blog to see what my Crewmates thought of their experience with Institute for Excellence in Writing!

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P.S. If you are a mom of boys then you must watch "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day" This answers all those puzzling questions about why boys do the things they do and how to work with them, instead of against them!!  I sat through it thinking "Aha...!!!  That's why!!"


**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.
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