Review: Human Body Detectives – The Lucky Escape!

November 16, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | Comments Off  

humanbodyHuman Body Detectives – The Lucky Escape is a CD audiobook with an accompanying workbook. The activity-filled workbook complements the educational adventure audio story, The Lucky Escape. The audio story and activity workbook are geared to serve as a tool for families, teachers and parents of home-schooled children, to supplement science and/or health curricula and share knowledge about the digestive system.

The boys and I listened to The Lucky Escape last week, and found it entertaining and informative. The cute story teaches about the various components of the digestive system and the function that each plays. The boys learned a lot, and laughed a lot at the frequent use of words for bodily functions. :)

The workbook is a perfect accompaniment, with puzzles and worksheets designed to give more information and reinforce the concepts already learned. This audiobook – and the rest of the series – would make a great addition to any homeschool health or life science curriculum.

(Thank you to Melissa Cassera of Cassera Communications for sending me Human Body Detectives – The Lucky Escape to review.)

Bullet points

October 30, 2009 Categories: Blogging , Curriculum , Holidays , Homeschooling , Writing | 2 Comments  

~ There is so much going on – I haven’t had much time to post here at Mommy Brain. I feel bad, but Books and Movies has to be more of a priority, because I’m getting free books to review in the mail every week.

~ No improvement on the financial front – enough said. Oh, and my van – which is our most reliable vehicle and the only one with a fully functioning heater – is in the shop today. Praying very hard that it is something easy and cheap to fix.

~ I switched Natalie to The History of US by Joy Hakim for her US history. She’s liking it much better. I’m dealing with the lack of review exercises/exams by having her write a summary paragraph after reading each chapter. So far, so good.

~ Kevin and the kids carved pumpkins last week, but two of them have already had to be thrown away. We had a very early freeze in our neck of the woods, and the result was mushy pumpkins.

~ Our butterflies have completed their life cycle, and the butterfly habitat will be put away until spring. This has been one of Jonathan’s most favorite birthday presents ever!

~ The kids are extremely excited to attend the Harvest Party at Grandmamma and Papa’s church tomorrow night. They always bring home bags and bags of candy.

~ And now, in the “here’s my excuse for not blogging hardly at all next month” category: I’m doing NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel. In a month. That amounts to 1667 words a day. So, needless to say, blogging will be at a minimum until November is over. I’m excited but terrified, too. But at least I’ll be able to say I tried, right? Michelle did it last year, and it didn’t kill her. :) Natalie is doing it, too – but her goal is 7,000 words. Michelle and her kids are doing it, too, so at least we’ll have company.

I guess that catches everyone up. Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo? Please let me know – and tell me your user name – so I can add you to my writing buddies list.

Have a great Halloween!

Homeschooling a junior higher

July 15, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | 4 Comments  

Natalie is entering 7th grade in August. (Why does just typing those words make my hands shake?) This year will be the first year in a long time that our homeschooling plans are significantly different. I have always taught science and history as group subjects with all of the kids together. Now that she’s in middle school, I’m going to require more of her in those subject areas, and she will be working on her own.

Here are the programs we will be using for Natalie this upcoming year.

All American History, Volume 2

Science Explorer: Animals; From Bacteria to Plants; Human Biology and Health; Motions, Forces, and Energy; and Sound and Light

Realms of Gold, Volume 2 – This is an anthology of all the short stories, essays, poems, speeches, and autobiographical selections that the Core Knowledge series recommends for 7th grade. She’ll also be reading Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I’m also going to be using two other study guides with her: Introduction to Poetry: Forms and Elements Study Guide and Literary Genres.

Shurley English 7 – This is a grammar and composition program.

Saxon Math 8/7 with Pre-Algebra

Spelling Workout Level G

Latina Christiana 1 – Natalie, Noah, and I will all be doing this.

Curriculum Review: Saxon Math

May 13, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | 2 Comments  


We have been using Saxon Math for Homeschools for a few years now, and it has worked very well for three of my four children, and the early grades worked well for the fourth, too.

The early grades are very structured and make frequent use of manipulatives, which give the students a good understanding of the “why” of math. There is no rote memorization of facts without knowing what addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are. Once the child understands the “why” of each operation, they then work on memorizing their basic facts through drill sheets. This was something that was missing from the curriculum we used previously.

If you decide to use the primary grade math curriculum from Saxon, you will definitely want to purchase the manipulatives kit. You can purchase just the 1st grade kit, and then each year purchase the “expansion” kit, but it’s cheaper in the long-run to purchase the entire K-3 kit, especially if you think you’ll continue to use Saxon through the primary grades.

I skipped the kindergarten year with Josiah, because the kindergarten program is very simple and any child who knows their colors and basic shapes, and can count and recognize numbers to 10 doesn’t really need the kindergarten year. Josiah is finishing up his 1st grade year, but finished Saxon Math 2 today, and he has had no problems keeping up with the program. We may have to slow down later – and I will have no problem doing that – but so far he’s excelling at math.

The primary grades require lots of one on one instruction time with your child, unless he or she is very self-led in math. Some of my kids have required more time than others. My youngest, Josiah, is the most self-directed and the most naturally gifted in math, and I’ve skipped a lot of the manipulative instruction with him, because he just seems to “get” it.

Math for the middle grades changes, with a switch from a workbook to a textbook, and no manipulative work. The middle grade books have very little pictorial representation of concepts, and the student must copy the problems from the text book onto his or her own paper. The program continues to drill math facts, reviewing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division each year. This starts with Saxon Math 5/4, which is the 4th grade program.

Jonathan will be entering the 4th grade in the fall, and for the first time I will be using a different math program for the 4th grade. My Jonathan is very much a tactile learner, and has a lot of focus issues. I’m sure if he was in public school, his teacher would want him medicated, but I prefer to teach him ways to focus and have chosen to fit his curriculum to his learning style. He also absolutely hates to write, so I can see the fact that he has to copy each problem down causing him to hit a major wall. I will be switching to Horizons Math, which continues with a workbook approach in the 4th grade, and is much more colorful and full of pictures. It continues at the same pace as Saxon, but is an approach that I am hoping will work better with his learning style.

All in all, Saxon Math is a comprehensive math program that is easy for a homeschooling parent to use, and that gives the student a good foundation in math concepts and lots of practice memorizing the necessary facts. It also goes beyond basic arithmetic, covering geometry, measurement, money, and time.

Curriculum Review: Shurley English

April 7, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | 6 Comments  


I was so excited to find the Shurley English program for language arts. For several years, I pieced together our language arts program: separate grammar, writing, and vocabulary books. We tried Writing Strands, Wordly Wise, Abeka Language Arts – you name it, we tried it. And no one was happy.

Then Michelle introduced me to Shurley English (formerly called Shurley Grammar), and I was sold. This program teaches grammar in such a way that skills build on skills. Students learn grammar rules and terms by memorizing jingles. They are repetitive and slightly annoying, but they work. Jonathan, my third-grader, can classify three different sentence patterns. He can identify nouns, verbs – including helping verbs and verbs-transitive, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions, and interjections.

Along with the parts of speech, there is in-depth instruction in verb tenses, correcting double negatives, irregular nouns, and every other grammar concept, all taught at grade-appropriate times. Along with the grammar instruction, the children learn vocabulary – eight new words a week. The vocabulary is quite accelerated, but I like the idea that my sixth grader is learning words like pilfer, deify, loquacious, and brazen.

The other part of language arts that is included is writing instruction. The Shurley English method of writing sentences, paragraphs, and essays takes all the mystery out of the writing process. It breaks it down into manageable steps. First, the student learns to assemble sentences by parts of speech. Then, they learn to write a three-point paragraph. This is expanded to a three-paragraph essay, and then to a five-paragraph essay. They are taught to write expository essays and persuasive essays. They learn descriptive writing and narratives, with the correct use of quotations. We don’t do all of the writing assignments or creative writing exercises – there are a lot of them – but the kids have done enough to learn how to write a basic essay. This year, in 6th grade, Natalie is also learning how to do outlining and take research notes in order to write a research paper.

The only part of language arts that isn’t included in Shurley English is a spelling program. We use the Spelling Workout series, and it suits us fine.

When I was in school, we were told to “just write – don’t worry about grammar or spelling, it only interferes with the creative process.” If it wasn’t for the fact that I read so much, I would have had no idea how to write a proper sentence or paragraph. I am happy that my kids are learning basic grammar and writing skills that will be useful to them in many different areas of life. We will continue to use Shurley English through middle school, and I have complete faith that they will then be ready for high school composition.

Curriculum Review: Living Learning Books Science

March 26, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | 4 Comments  


This is the third year we have used Living Learning Books for our science curriculum. This is the perfect science curriculum for homeschooling parents who prefer a unit study approach to science, and who like to use “living books” rather than textbooks.

Now, I know that it would be easy enough to put together my own unit studies for science, but it takes a lot of time – and this program is relatively inexpensive for the time it saves me. For each unit, the author has put together a list of resources, including books and movies that you can find at your public library. She has also created coloring pages, vocabulary, and project pages for each section.

There are three levels: Life Science, Earth Science and Astronomy, and Chemistry. Each level uses an Usborne Science Encyclopedia as the basic text, which you can then supplement with as many books and films that you can find time for. This year, we’re doing the Chemistry study, and the author has combined some simple reading covering the basic concepts and vocabulary for each lesson with several experiments that demonstrate the concepts learned. The experiments have been a lot of fun – and they use items we either already have around the house, or can pick up at the local supermarket.

In conjunction with the reading, vocabulary, and experiments, I have used the Chemistry videos from the Schlessinger Science Library series. I can’t find them to purchase anywhere – and they’re only available on VHS – but if you can find them at your library, they are wonderful.

Since we’re finishing up the third level this year, and are ready to do a study of Physical Science, we’ll be moving on to a different curriculum next year. I only hope it’s as interesting and easy to use as Living Learning Books.

Curriculum Review: Story of the World

March 17, 2009 Categories: Curriculum , Homeschooling | 4 Comments  


I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that this is supposed to – at least partly – be a homeschooling blog, but I hardly ever blog about homeschooling anymore. Now that spring is almost here, it’s time to make plans for next year. This is the first time in a few years that I have to do more planning than just purchasing the next grade level for all of the curriculum we use, because Natalie is entering – gasp! – junior high. Her schooling will differ a lot from what we’ve done in the past – more independent learning, less joint classes with her brothers – as she gets ready for high school and the Running Start program, which will enable her to graduate from high school with her Associate’s Degree.

I’ll be posting later about what we’ll be doing differently next year, but I thought it would be good to do some curriculum reviews in the next few weeks of the programs that have been working so well for us the past few years. I’m starting with Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World, which we have used for history for the past three years. This year we’re using The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 3: Early Modern Times, which covers the time period starting with Elizabeth I and the Age of Exploration, and ends with the Gold Rush and the 49ers.

We started with this curriculum three years ago, with Volume 1 on Ancient History. I bought both the book and the activity guide, which is loaded with comprehension questions, coloring pages, map pages, and tons of activities. I quickly learned that I could not do everything in the activity book, unless I wanted to spend two or three years on Ancient History. The activities range from the simple, like making masks, to the more complex, like mummifying a chicken.

If you’re the kind of homeschooling parent who feels like you must do everything the book says, then this curriculum will drive you crazy. However, if you, like me, have no problem crossing things out, skipping sections, and picking and choosing activities, then this is an amazing program. We quickly settled into a routine. While I read the section aloud, the kids color the corresponding coloring page. I ask the section questions, and then we do the map work. We also do the less complicated activities. We did build a pyramid of sugar cubes. We did not mummify a chicken. (Ew.)

This program is designed for grade school kids. When we started, Natalie was in 4th grade, Noah in 2nd, Jonathan in 1st, and Josiah wasn’t doing school yet. As the kids have gotten older, Natalie and Noah have done some additional reading, and I have incorporated some of our read-aloud time to include books that fit with what we’re studying in history. If the library has movies available on important persons or events of the time period, we also watch those. (Which was one of the reasons I freaked when our VCR died and I found out that you can’t buy just a VCR anymore, but that’s a whole different story.) This program has given the kids a good overview of history. They may not be able to recite dates by memory, but they know what the major civilizations were and who the major people were and can describe major events.

Because of the map work included with each chapter, they also have a good working knowledge of world geography. I have supplemented their map work with a Map Skills workbooks for each grade, that goes into more detail about types of maps, hemispheres, lines of longitude and latitude and other map features. I have been really happy with the way this method of teaching history has worked for us – and I love this curriculum.

This year, we are doing an abridged version of Voume 3, Early Modern Times. Because Bauer takes a world-wide approach to history, each book teaches the history of each continent and country. Natalie needs to be ready to start studying the Civil War next year in 7th grade, and so to get through Volume 3, which ends with the Gold Rush, we are only doing American and European history. I will skip the Asian and Australian sections for now, knowing that the kids will come back around to it in later grades. If I left those sections in, it would take us two years to get through Volume 3.

Next year, the boys and I will continue on with The Story of the Word, Volume 4: Modern Times, while Natalie will be using a different, middle school curriculum. It will be a change for her, but good preparation for high school and college work. I haven’t decided which curriculum to use for Natalie yet, though I’m thinking about The Story of Us. Any suggestions for a good middle school history curriculum?