Random Five on Friday ~ June 26 Edition

I’ve got some random thoughts from the past two weeks. I think I can keep it to five though!

1. My mom has lung disease and it has been getting progressively worse. She gave us quite a scare at the end of May. I was told to “use my best judgment” about coming to visit. Someone who knew all about the situation offered to buy a plane ticket for me to visit my mom. This incredibly generous person, who wishes to be anonymous, also purchased a ticket so I could bring one daughter with me. This was an incredible gift and I have no words adequate enough to say thank you but I have this blog so I thought I would share a few of the blessings from that short trip.

My mama!

2.  I got to see my mom.  Yes I know that was the primary purpose of my trip. We went every day to the care center and visited with mom and got to know a couple of the residents there. Mom has aged quite a bit since she has gotten sicker.  But she’s still my mama. I could see glimpses of both my grandmother and my mother in her face and her expressions. Her voice though was all hers.  I got to see Mom at “home” rather than in the hospital setting. She was well enough to be discharged before I came to visit.

3. While I was there I got to see my mom’s older brother. I forgot to snap pictures with my camera but my Aunt M had her camera ready as usual. She’s going to send me some pictures. I learned something about my uncle that I never before and I think it is really cool. Well two things actually.  One thing I learned is that he always calls mom “Little Sister.” I don’t know why I did not know that. The other thing that I learned that really touched my heart is that he always counts his twin brother and younger sister when he talks about his siblings. Both my uncle and my aunt died while they were children. When one of the volunteers asked my uncle about mom being the “Little Sister” he told her that he had five sisters. At first, I thought “wait a minute, uncle! You miscounted.  There are only 4 girls,” but then the volunteer said something about him being mom’s big brother and he said “one of them.”  And that’s when it clicked. Mom is the first born daughter, the second pregnancy, but she was the third baby. Somewhere I have this awesome picture of mom with her two older brothers. Twin boys with one little girl.

3. One of the horrible things about being so far away from family is that I don’t get to see nieces or nephews.  I have a six year old nephew who I had never even met!  On this trip I got to see my sister and my brother-in-law and I got to meet my nephew. He looks just like his older sister. In his baby pictures though he looks just like his mama.

Meeting her cousin!!

4.  We stayed with my sister-in-law which gave Tailorbear a chance to spend some time with her aunt and uncle from her daddy’s side. As a special treat she got to go on a motorcycle ride with her uncle!

Tailorbear and her Uncle go fo ar ride!

5. While we were gone, Boobear celebrated her birthday! I hated missing out on her birthday but I am so grateful to her godmother who threw a little party for her and helped her to celebrate when I couldn’t be there.

Random Five Circling Button


Planning the High School Years

Some of my fellow Schoolhouse Review Crew friends are participating in a monthly blog hop blogging on topics related to home schooling high school.  This month we’ll be talking about planning.

The thought of home schooling through high school overwhelmed me. What should I teach? How was I going to teach courses for subjects like Biology and Chemistry? What about a diploma?  What about college?

Plannng the High School Years ~ Circling Through This Life #homeschool high school

There are even more resources and helps available today than there were seven years ago as I contemplated starting high school with Boo Bear. One resource that I did not have then that I have now is High School Prep Genius. This is a book that I recommend for both parents and students to read and discuss together.

So how exactly do I plan high school?  First I started by researching the requirements for high school graduation in my state. I needed answers to such questions as “am I required to follow the public school requirements for graduation?” “Can I issue a diploma?” I also needed to ask and answer for myself “What are my goals for my high school students?”  “What courses do I want to require them to take?” “What are her goals? Her likes? Her interests?”

In my research I discovered that home schools in my state do not have to follow the graduation requirements of the public school districts and that parents can issue a diploma. I set a standard of 20-24 credits required for graduation. This would be equal to five to six credits per year for four years.

When we started mapping out high school for BooBear we knew we wanted to include specific courses in music. She also wanted to study psychology. When I looked at college requirements and college tracks I was able to decide on minimums of 3 years of Math, 4 years of English, 2 years of science, and 3-4 years of Social Studies (history, cultures, geography etc.). As she progressed through high school, we started tailoring her transcript to the specific college she was most interested in and her senior year we included courses in computer science and health.

Turtlegirl’s high school plan looks very different. She’ll have her fine arts course but she’s more science oriented. She’ll have less social sciences and more foreign languages. She’ll have more computer programing and no sewing. She’s looking at 3 1/2 to four credits of Math, 1 1/2 to 2 credits of computer programming, 5 credits of English, and 3 to 4 credits of science.

So how do I determine credit? It depends. I like it when a course tells me how much credit to give the student. One rule of thumb is that if you finish the course or the text it is worth 1 credit. It is worth 1 credit whether they finish in 6 months or 18 months. Another way to determine credit is how much work and how much time is spent.

Is Record Keeping Important? In a word? YES! For BooBear I used Homeschool Tracker Plus. HST + is no longer offered for sale as Tracker has released an Online version. I love HST + and I loved using the transcript part of the program. With Turtlegirl I discovered My Student Logbook which is more for accountability. Turtlegirl records what she completes in the log book. We’ll need to get another one in the fall.

For planning, though, I have started using Homeschool Planet from Homeschool Buyers Co-Op. I’ll be writing a thorough review of the program in mid-July but I have to say this is the first computer based planning program that has worked for me since Homeschool Tracker. I love HS Planet. For now I am planning to use Homeschool Planet for planning and grading and then input those grades into Tracker to create a transcript. I am not sure I like the look of the transcript report yet.

Home schooling High School isn’t easy but you don’t have to go it alone! Read these other blog posts from my fellow High School home schooling mamas.

Meg from Adventures with Jude on Planning Your Homeschool High School
Chareen at Every Bed of Roses with thoughts on Planning to Homeschool through the High School Years
April from ElCloud Homeschool shares Homeschooling High School: Planning For High School
Debra over at Footprints in the Butter asks:
You mean I have to PLAN our Homeschool High School?!?
Michele at Family, Faith and Fridays shares Here's the Plan
Lisa at Golden Grasses says Don't Panic! Homeshcooling High School Blog Hop
Debbie at Debbie's Homeschool Corner Planning Out a High School Program
Gena over at I Choose Joy! shares her Top Tip for Planning Homeschool High School
Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break shares on Planning and Preparing for Success
Erica over at Be The One shares Planning and Record Keeping for High School
Jennifer from A Glimpse of Our Life on Planning For Homeschooling Highschool
Carol over at Home Sweet Life on Making A Plan
Wendy at Life at Rossmont shares thoughts on
Planning for High School
Cristi from Through the Calm and Through the Storm shares on Making High School Plans
Dawn Oaks at Double O Farms shares Planning for the High School Years
Leah from As We Walk Along the Road shares her thoughts on Making Plans for Homeschooling Through High School
Are you homeschooling high school? Have you home schooled high school? Maybe you are just beginning the high school years? It sounds more complicated and difficult than it is.  I am enjoying the high school years. How do you calculate grades? Do you have a favorite planning tool?

Homeschooling High School at Circling Through This Life


SmartKidz Media~ A Multi-Media Library for Homeschoolers {A Review}

If Supergirl could spend her whole day just watching videos she would. I try to incorporate educational videos into her school plan because they work well for her. Our family also enjoys fun but educational documentaries. We try to watch more of those during Orthodox Fasting seasons and less regular streaming.  Finding something that will entertain, while educating, is not always an easy task, so when the crew had the opportunity to review SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers I expressed high interest.

SmartKidz Media a Digital Media Resource for Homeschoolers ~ Read Tess's Review at Circling Through This Life

More than Just Videos

SmartKidz Media offers more than just videos. It is a media resource library filled with videos, eBooks, music, and even study guides. The website has two sections: Family Media, and the Reading and Learning Center.

The Family Media section is divided into two categories: World of Discovery, and Music and Fine Arts.  The World of Discovery includes topics from Animals and Wildlife, Science, History, Health and Fitness, Lifestyles and Cuisine, Travel and Adventure and Documentaries and Cultures. The length of the videos varies.  Some are as short as 8-10 minutes and others are as long as 25-30 minutes. All of the videos that I watched could be played “Full Screen” but none that I saw had closed caption included. We noticed several of them were produced by the BBC and Turtlegirl and I especially liked hearing the accents! A few of the titles include:

  • Bizarre Science ~ There are three volumes of this BBC collection. We watched volume 1 together for fun and plan on watching the other two as well. These are educational but fun to watch.
  • Ancient Cultures ~ This one also has three volumes. I thought it would be about ancient cultures from the *past* but it really explored ancient cultures that still exist.
  • Bravo Chef series with cuisine from all over the world. Supergirl loved these. She loved these even more than the animals ones and would ask for these videos. Turtlegirl is including them as part of her “Advanced Cooking course” and she is planning to actually prepare some of the dishes.
  • Worldwide Discovery: Scotland ~ There are 11 different Worldwide Discovery titles. Supergirl watched Scotland. I plan on adding a few of these titles to our geography studies as we study countries around the world.

Bravo Chef French recipe leTian from SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers

Animals dominate the videos in the World of Discovery section with several different series. Recently SmartKidz updated the content to include history videos from World War II and the Cold War. It looks like U.S. History will be coming soon. Speaking of coming soon, there will be some sports videos added as well.

The Music and Fine Arts section includes Classical Music, Cultural Music, Jazz and Blues Classics, and Relaxation Music. There is a Fine Arts section with five selections. Four of those are classical composers paired with an artist. As you listen to the music of Dvorak you see images of the art of Remington or listen to the music of Grieg while viewing the art of Renoir. I liked being able to click on a composer like Handel and let it play in one window while I work on lesson plans in another window or write blog posts.

Handel's Playlist from SmartKidz Media

The Reading and Learning Center has eight sections:

  • The Mighty EBook Collection ~ I like to let Supergirl use this section on the Kindle because she can follow along while the book is read to her. I love the collection of Aesop Fables and Beatrix Potter stories
  • Baby Signs Program ~ includes a signing dictionary and videos for potty training
  • My Animal Family ~ yes, more animals!
  • Quick Find Study Guides ~ These are like reference tools. I used the spelling one to look up when to write our numbers. There are references for Language Arts, Math, Science and more. French and Spanish grammar are listed as coming soon!
  • Easy Learning for Special Needs ~ This category includes “Hear the Book” and Interactive sections for nearly all of the items listed. The Interactive options include PDF downloads.  I think this section would work well for younger children in the toddler/preschool years whether they are typical learners or special learners.
  • The Living Skills Program is listed as coming soon!
  • Ready Set Sing ~ this has sections for ages 2-4 and for ages 6-8
  • The Fun Zone ~ In this area children can find games, and jokes and riddle books. There are puzzles as well.  Supergirl had a bit of trouble with the puzzles because she wasn’t quite coordinated enough with the mouse. These do not work on the Kindle Fire. 

Accessing the Media Library

Because this is a subscription to online streaming content, it can be accessed from a variety of devices including smart phones, ipads, and Kindles! We have an old Wii and a TV so old it cannot even support an adapter to use with the laptop.  We did try it on the Wii with the Wii browser but our internet service is no longer playing nice with the Wii as the browser is so outdated. We opted for using SmartKidz on the laptop and the Kindle Fire.  We are hoping to purchase a new “smart TV” in the fall and I am sure Supergirl will appreciate being able to watch her favorite SmartKidz videos on the TV. In the meantime, she enjoys her special Kindle Fire time!

Supergirl enjoys SmartKidz on the Kindle! Read Tess's Reviwe at Circling Through This Life

The Details:

  • The Vender:  SmartKidz Media
  • The Product: SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers
  • Format: Online Subscription
  • Age Range:  There are materials for every age group!
  • Price:  $10 a month or $99 a year.  There is also a 14 Day Free Trial
  • More Information: View the FAQ page for more information
  • NOTE:  I have not personally viewed all of the content.  All families are different so be sure to read the other crew reviews to get more information and more opinions! Sign up for the 14 Day Free Trail to see for yourself!
SmartKidz Media Review

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


Supergirl Answers a Survey about Her Mom

I have been seeing this interview on Facebook.  Ask your child these questions and record exactly what they say.  I decided I’d rather do as a blog post so I asked Supergirl the questions.  Questions are in bold. My commentary is in purple.

Supergirl answers questions about her mom, Tess at Circling Through This Life
1. What is something mom always says to you?

Take your thyroid. [yup, every morning I tell her to take her thyroid medication which gets shortened to “take your thyroid.”]

2. What makes mom happy?

When I drink all the water. [She must drink a full glass of water with her thyroid medication. I’ve been a stickler about making her do it.]

3. What makes mom sad?

When she calls her mom and she can’t talk and she misses her dad.

4. How does your mom make you laugh?

She tickles me.

5. What was your mom like as a child?

Um, when she was a girl she went to school. When she grew up she went to college and got a college degree.

6. How old is your mom?

Three? No. Wait. I don’t know. [I think 3 is her current favorite number.]

7. How tall is your mom?

Bigger than me.

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

Work.  Clean the house.  No.  Wait.  Maybe playing games on her computer.

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?

Fun stuff.  Watching TV with my dad.

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?


11. What is your mom really good at?

Cooking.  Making dinner.  Making lunch.  Making breakfast.

12. What is your mom not very good at?

She’s not very good at sleeping. She has problems sleeping.

13. What does your mom do for a job?

Working on her computer.  She has Crew stuff.

14.What is your mom's favorite food?

Eggs.  Or McDonald’s Sausage and Egg Biscuit

15.What makes you proud of your mom?

I’m very proud of my mom working.

16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?

The Evil Queen [See the notes about the thyroid.  I am pretty sure I am the Evil Queen because I make her drink the water and wait the 30 minutes before allowing her to eat breakfast.  The “Thyroid” must be taken on an empty stomach with a full glass of water.]

17. What do you and your mom do together?

Math, play wii bowling, IEW

18. How are you and your mom the same?

Sometimes we wear the colors and we have the same last name

19. How are you and your mom different?

We have different hair. I am blonde and mom has brown.

20. How do you know your mom loves you?

Because she gave birth to me and that’s how she loves me. [I am not sure my giving birth shows her how I love her but I got lots of hugs for this question.]

21. What does your mom like most about your dad?

His beard. [his beard???!!!!! Really?? Well, I like it when it is nice and trim.  I don’t know if it’s really what I like most but I chuckled at her answer.]

22. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?

To the restaurant to get food

23. How old was your Mom when you were born?

Let’s say 16 [um no, not quite twice that!]


CTC Math ~ Online Math from K through High School {Review}

I first heard about CTC Math when it came up for review in the last crew run. We used it.  We liked it.  It was fabulous for Turtlegirl. Turtlegirl continued to use it for Geometry but I set it aside for Supergirl until a couple of months ago. Our subscription was nearing its end. I wanted to continue to use it with Turtlegirl so I pulled it out again for Supergirl.I hadn’t liked it as much for her as I did for Turtlegirl and I realized it was because Supergirl needed a bit more maturing. I decided I liked it now enough for Supergirl to justify purchasing a month to month family plan so that Turtlegirl could finish Geometry. So having purchased a month to month subscription, I was thrilled when I saw the 12 Month Family Plan come up for review.

CTC Math Online Math for Grades K through High School ~ Read Tess's Review at Circling Through This Life

CTC Math

CTC Math is an online video based subscription program with courses from Kindergarten through Trigonometry. For K through 6th grade this program can be used as a complete program. For the high school level courses you may wish to use them as supplements though I have noticed that they have added more material since last year.

With a CTC Math subscription, each student has access to every level of the program. This gives the student great flexibility to go at her own pace or to review a weak area for one topic and forge ahead in a strong one. 

List of Courses for CTC Math Online

Some key features that I really like include:

  • Customizable backgrounds ~ in the settings section at the bottom of the screen, you can add an email address for the student to receive reports but even more fun is that you can choose what background color you prefer.
  • the video lessons can be viewed in full screen mode ~ this can help reduce distraction for the student who wants to look at everything except the instruction video
  • a separate parent log-in so that I can see overall results or view summary and detailed reports
  • with the parent log-in, I can set the minimum percentage for a passing score ~ for the high school levels, this means the student cannot view the solution set until she has reached the minimum passing percentage. It does not, however, prevent a student from moving on to another topic.
  • Weekly reports emailed to me!

Differences between Elementary Courses and High School Courses

All of the courses include video instruction. These videos can be played “Full Screen” which, for some students, is helpful. All the courses are divided into sections which are divided into topics.

The primary difference between grades K-6 and the Middle and High School levels is the assignment format. For grades K-6 plus Elementary Geometry and Elementary Measurement, the questions are done online.  They are interactive and graded immediately. If the student needs more practice, there is the option for “more questions.”

If you need more practice, you can click on More Questions

For the upper level courses students have worksheets. These worksheets can be printed out or the student can work through the problems on scratch paper.  For many of the Geometry topics, I recommend printing the worksheet so that the student can mark the figures.

The worksheet has a key or code for answers so that when the student is finished, she can input her answers and submit for a grade. In the FAQ section, CTC Math explains that it can be difficult to type some of the answers because of the symbols. Note that some topics need to be graded by the student and the student inputs the grade into the program.

Using CTC Math with Turtlegirl

Last year, Turtlegirl worked through the Geometry section of the program. She’s taken a few breaks here and there and has just a couple of lessons left to complete. When we were assigned to review CTC Math this time, she decided to work on Pre-Calculus while finishing up Geometry.

Turtlegirl says she appreciates that Mr. Murray, the video instructor, works through several problems of different types. He does this step by step so the student can apply the concept in different ways.

Turtlegirl is hoping to finish both Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry before graduation.

CTC Math remembers where you are! Read Tess's Review at Circling Through This Life

Using CTC Math with Supergirl

Although CTC Math can be used as a complete math program for younger students, I found that I like using CTC Math best as a supplement for Supergirl. She requires concepts to be presented in a variety of ways and CTC Math is perfect to use 3 days a week for concepts such as time, geometry, and measurement. She needs lots practice with her math facts so we work on those with a different program.

I especially love that we have access to all the levels. This allows me lots of flexibility or customizing for Supergirl. She is doing some work at 2nd grade level while some concepts are still at a first grade level.  We can try a concept at 2nd grade and if it is too difficult we can cover it at the 1st grade level first. I think she may even be ready for 3rd grade with some concepts. The ability to move between grade levels is perfect for my asynchronous special needs daughter.

The Details:

CTCmath Review from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


Random Five on Friday ~ June 12th Edition

This is the second Friday of June but only my first Random Five for the month! 

1. Honeybear has a garden again this year!  It's his "baby" though the girls do help.  I did get to help choose what to plant:  tomatoes, carrots, onions, squash, cucumbers, peas and beans. The garden has little sprouts and the tomato plants have a few tomatoes. Seeing the onions takes me back to when I was growing up.  My parents grew green onions and tomatoes and peas, I think.  But mostly every year it was tomatoes.  In general I dislike peas but fresh peas from the garden are wonderful and I am looking forward to those!

See how the garden grows! Random Five at Circling Through This Life

We've Got Tomatoes!! Random Five at Circling Through This Life

2. I didn’t post a Random Five last week but if I had I would have talked about how last week marked the two year anniversary since Honeybear's heart attack.  I even wrote about it. It ranks up there as one of my top 3 most scary moments of my life.

3. Another anniversary date of sorts passed last week. I graduated from high school 29 years ago. That means that I finished my junior year of high school, 30 years ago. I don’t think that is possible.  1985 can not be 30 years ago.  Nope.  I am not that old. I am not. I am not. I am not.  [You can stop laughing now.]

4. I am not a fast reader.  Even when a book is really good, I tend to be slow.  A few days ago, I finished a book in record time. Record time for me that is.  I started it on June 3rd and I finished it on June 7th. I bet you want to know what it is, right?  The God Complex by Murray McDonald.  It’s a thriller and it is very fast-paced making it very easy to read. It was my choice for the month of June as part of the Kindle Owners Library. I’m going to check to see if I can borrow Divide and Conquer next, but I won’t be able to borrow another book until July 1st.

5. Supergirl has added a new phrase to her vocabulary.  “That sucks!”   I am not sure where she picked it up but she’s definitely been trying it out.  “We can’t go to church that day?”  “No.”  “That sucks!”   “I want curly fries.”  “They don’t have curly fries.”  “That sucks!”  I’m not sure how I feel about it but having her express her frustration with “that sucks!” is far better than the melt downs.  Using words is a much more pleasant way to express frustration.

*******Editor’s Note*****************

I could just back date this post so that it says it’s Friday June 12th but I’m just going to keep it real.  I didn’t finish getting the images I wanted into this post so I decided not to publish. I decided to watch several episodes of the 11th Doctor (Season 7) with my family instead. So this is Friday’s edition but you get to read it on Saturday.

Random Five at Circling Through This LIfe, Gardens and Anniversaries!


Teaching Writing Structure and Style with SWI-A {Review}

I fell in love with Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) my first year on the crew when I had the opportunity to review Teaching Writing Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive Level C.  I loved it so much that I purchased more products from IEW and begged to review the SWI-Level B with Tailorbear.

Supergirl has been begging and begging and begging to do IEW “like [her] sisters.”  I heard that IEW updated and revised the Teaching Writing Structure and Style program. I was incredibly excited at the possibility of using the new TWSS with the Student Writing Intensive Level A.  We have been blessed to review Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive Level A {Value Package A}.

TWSS and SWI together form a solid foundation to teach writing skils to all students but is easily adapted for special need learners.

Background: Supergirl

I was asked to review this package specifically with a special needs student. Grab a cup of coffee or an iced tea and get comfortable. We’re going to chat about how I’ve been using this with Supergirl, my 17 year old, globally developmentally delayedSupergirl is tiny for her 17 years but adorable! daughter. She struggles with fine motor skills, and learning disabilities. Her ability to understand and comprehend materials read to her far out strips her ability to read, write, and express herself.  This means that if you read to her from a history or science text aimed at 3rd or 4th or even 5th grade she would be able to correctly answer questions demonstrating her understanding. She would be able to give oral narrations though she might struggle to find the right word. She wouldn’t be able to read the passage, nor would she be able to write her own narration. She has asynchronous skills so I have to adapt most things to meet her needs. Having seen her sisters using IEW over the years, Supergirl has been begging for her own level of Student Writing Intensive.  We had been using Primary Arts of Language Writing, also from IEW, but unlike the SWI, doesn’t have DVDs with Mr. Andrew Pudewa teaching. When her very own level of SWI arrived, she hugged the binder. She couldn’t wait to get started writing her own keyword outlines!

Teaching Writing Structure and Style

Read Tess's Review of Teaching Writing Structure and Style at Circling Through This Life

This seminar teaches teachers how to teach writing. The original program was filmed 20 years ago. Recently, IEW completely revamped the seminar including re-filming the class and revising the hand outs.

The new TWSS that I received included the DVD Set, Binder with the Practicum Workbook, and the Premium Online Subscription which gives me 1 year access to the streaming videos as well as pdf download extras.

TWSS is divided into Nine Units. The Units provide the Structure part and include:

  1. Note Making and Outlines
  2. Writing from Notes
  3. Retelling Narrative Stories
  4. Summarizing a Reference
  5. Writing from Pictures
  6. Summarizing Multiple References
  7. Inventive Writing
  8. Formal Essay Models
  9. Formal Critique

The Style part is addressed during Units 1 and 2 as Stylistic Techniques. Some style techniques include Dress-Ups, Decorations, and Sentence Openers.

The Structural Models build on each other. Units 1 and 2 are easy to combine for most students and they lay the foundation for the methodology of the program. The other units can be divided into more of a formal research/essay type of writing (Units 4, 6, and 8) or more narrative, creative, or prompt based writing (Units 3, 5, 7, and 9).

The Practicum Workbook has a tab for each Unit plus tabs for Writing About Literature, Stylistic Techniques, and Appendices.


Student Writing Intensive Level A


This is the student seminar program that prepares students to Write With Structure and Style. The program comes with a DVD set, a student binder with tabs and a packet containing the student handout materials. The tabs include: Models/Sources Checklists, Outlines/Compositions, Structural Models,  Style Charts, “Banned Words”.  Instructions are given as to what to put behind each tab.  The bulk of the packet is to be kept separate. These items are the Teacher Notes and the Source Texts.

IEW advises that the student handouts be given to the student when needed. This means that Supergirl’s writing notebook has several empty tabs at the moment. As we progress through the program she’ll be adding pages to the different tabs in her notebook.

In addition to the DVDs and student materials, students will need plain lined paper. Once you’ve added the plain lined paper to the binder, the student has a working writing notebook.

The Teacher Notes include instructions for using the SWI program, a Scope and Sequence chart, Scene Breakdown, a suggested course schedule, and Teacher’s Notes for each lesson.

The Teacher Notes include a chart at the top giving the video scene breakdown for the lesson, which student hand outs are needed and lists out optional reinforcement materials that are included.  Below the chart the Notes begin with a suggestion to review the TWSS if you have it. It will tell you which units to watch.

The Lesson Notes give specific help for teaching the lesson, gives sample outlines gives suggestions for the reinforcement materials.

There are 15 Lessons in the program and the suggested schedule includes two weeks per lesson for 30 weeks of work. You can adjust the pace of the program to meet the needs of your students.  Some lessons even state “if your student is finding everything easy thus far, you may skip this lesson.”  

The suggested schedule lays out a pattern of Week 1 DVD lesson and student handbook, Week 2 reinforcement materials. Not every lesson has a DVD session. Those lessons provide more practice and reinforcement and have the statement above about skipping. 

Using TWSS and SWI-A With Supergirl

Before beginning the program with Supergirl, I set up both the Student Binder and the TWSS binder. I took the Teacher Notes and Handouts from SWI A and put them in the front of my TWSS binder.  This way I could easily reference any notes for the Unit when reading the notes for a particular lesson.

Read Tess's review of IEW's TWSS and SWI Level A at Circling Through This Life

Supergirl was eager to start so I let her watch the TWSS is with me. Over the course of a few days I watched Disc 1 and Disc 2 which covered the history and overview of the program, structural model Unit 1 and Unit 2 as well as the Dress-Ups portion of Stylistic Techniques. I also watched the practicum for teaching Units 1 and 2 which is at the end of Disc 2. Watching the TWSS before starting SWI helped me to understand the program and the method and gave me more confidence in teaching Supergirl.

Andrew Pudewa stresses modeling, and helping.  Model the sentence for the student if s/he struggles. He states, and I agree, that you cannot help the student too much. He also emphasizes, when teaching the stylistic techniques, to teach one at a time and let the student master that technique before adding another requirement.

Supergirl needed more modeling and help than her sisters did so I felt encouraged by Mr. Pudewa telling me that I could not help too much. Because he encourages modeling, helping, and giving lots of practice, I slowed down the program right from the beginning.

We began SWI by watching the Disc 1 Section for Lesson 1. Unit 1 focuses on creating Keyword Outlines.  Unit 2 builds on this skill by taking those outlines and writing a paragraph. SWI combines Unit 1 and Unit 2. For most students this is not a problem or an issue. For Supergirl though, I found that I did need to focus on just keyword outlines before attempting paragraphs.

Though Supergirl has experience telling narrations from short stories, identifying key words, then creating sentences and forming a paragraph required a different skill set. No worries though because between finding some source texts from our history study, the extras included for practice, and uses some source texts from the e-book included as part of the TWSS Subscription, I had plenty of material to keep practicing keyword outlines, and writing paragraphs.  We used some source texts to just practice writing the keyword outline.

TWSS Premium comes with a subscripton loaded with helpful extras!

I used a modeling technique explained in the TWSS to help her identify possible keywords if she had trouble. I would read the sentence but put emphasis on the words I would choose for keywords. Most of the time she would choose those words.  This technique worked well for us.

I also slowed down introducing the which clause. The which clause is introduced right away in lesson 1 as way for students to combine two facts and write a shorter paragraph.  Once Supergirl was comfortable with keyword outlines and starting to get comfortable with writing a paragraph from those keywords, we began to work in the which clause.

Though our review period has come to a close, I asked her if she wanted to continue using IEW and she said “Yes!”  She is looking forward to the units where she can re-tell stories and perhaps adjust those stories to tell new versions.

Key Ways I Adapted This for Supergirl

Way back in the beginning I mentioned that Supergirl has special needs. I found it easy to adapt the SWI to use with Supergirl. The TWSS has sections for Adjusting for Grade Level which helped me to make the right adjustments for Supergirl. I would read through the sections for Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, and especially the English Language and Special Needs sections for ideas.

I followed the suggestions for modeling. For example, in the English Language and Learners section of Adjusting for Grade Level, it states to help students choose key words as long as needed. “Stress the key words when reading the original aloud to help students hear them.” (p. 11) She often struggled with the oral retelling so I followed the advice to help her by starting the sentence for her.  Again this is the modeling that Mr. Pudewa encourages!

In addition to adapting it by slowing down and doing lots of modeling, I adapted it by being her scribe. Again this was a suggestion from the English Language Learners and Special Needs section.  She would choose her keywords, and underline them. I would write them on a whiteboard (for her to copy) or on a piece of paper (for days we did not use them as copywork).

Supergirl copies her Key Word Outline into her Writing Notebook.

When we used the keyword outline to write the paragraph, she would dictate the sentence to me and I would write it out. Again sometimes on the whiteboard for her to copy a sentence or two or on paper for her notebook. 

To engage her interest and to give her more practice with creating key word outlines and dictating paragraphs, I found source text material from our history studies. She especially enjoyed being able to write about Knights, Nobles, and Castles!

My Thoughts

Though it takes a significant amount of my time to work with Supergirl because she cannot do it independently, it is well worth the effort. I have seen her improve in her ability to put her thoughts into words to form sentences and a paragraph. It has been so worth it to hear her say “I did it!  I used a which clause.  Can I show Daddy?” 

I think Teaching Writing Structure and Style along with the Student Writing Intensive is an excellent way to teach students to write. It is working beautifully with my special needs daughter who struggles with both cognitive as well as physical disabilities and learning challenges. It is also an excellent program for average, accelerated, or gifted students as it is easily adaptable to meet the needs of students.  

Read my reviews of SWI-B and SWI-C to see how this works with other children. Looking for a grammar program? IEW also includes Fix It! Grammar in their TWSS Deluxe Packages!

 Read Tess's Review of Teaching Writing/Student Writing Value Package Level A at Circling Through This Life

The Details:

  • The Vender:  Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)
  • The Product: Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive Level A {Value Package A}.
  • The Author:  Andrew Pudewa and Jill Pike
  • The DVD Presenter: Andrew Pudewa
  • Format:  DVD Seminar with handouts along with access to PDF downloads.  TWISS Premium Subscription includes access to the online videos for one year.
  • Price: $249 
  • NOTE:  The SWI DVD set contains an OVERVIEW DVD to help you understand the methodology of the program. If you do not have the TWSS, you can watch the Overview DVD to get a basic understanding of Structure and Style.  If you do have TWSS, it is not necessary to watch that dvd.
  • ANOTHER NOTE: Though I think using both TWSS and SWI together is the best way, Student Writing Intensive can be used alone.  Teaching Writing Structure and Style works well as a stand alone for parents and teachers who enjoy writing their own lesson plans and who have the confidence to teach the method.

Read more reviews of IEW at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog!

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You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


Summer is here!!

Nearly every year I post something in May about how much I love May and how perfect the days are and I complain that June is cold, gray and rainy but it’s ok cause May is beautiful.

This year has been weird. Our May was not full of beautiful practically perfect sunny days. We had cold and rain. I was getting worried that would mean we would NOT see the sun until after the fourth of July! It was depressing thinking about that.

But that has not been the case!  It’s been gorgeous!  We’ve had several days in a row of beautiful sunshine filled days.  We’ve had temps in the 80s.

Summer is Here!

Gardens are growing (including ours but that’s a post for another day), birds are singing, grass is growing.  It’s summer in the mild Pacific Northwest.

We did not need the air conditioner at all in May.  We usually don’t need it in June either.  This year though I begged Honeybear to put it in last night because having so many days of temps in the 80’s had taken its toll and the house had gotten HOT.  We wouldn’t even need it now if we had windows positioned to give us a nice cross breeze or if we could block the hot afternoon sun from streaming into the Kitchen and Family Room.

The weather is so summery that I was shocked to see a school bus in the neighborhood.  Then I remembered it is still EARLY June.  School will be done next week.  Well for the public school.  We’ll still be working through things because we like being able to take longer breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Pascha.

The girls know though that if they work diligently they can have some time off to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Turtlegirl likes to go to the park and enjoy the sun and heat. She loves the sun the most. Tailorbear prefers the rain and is usually the first to complain that “it’s too hot mom, can I go run in the sprinkler?”

Summer means jumping on the trampoline and reading books outside. I love summer! Do you have any special plans for this summer?


The Book of the Ancient Romans Set {Crew Review}

We have used a few of the Latin programs from Memoria Press, including Latina Christiana and First Form Latin, but we never included a focused study of Roman history. Studying the history of Rome is commonly part of a Latin course. We had the opportunity to review The Book of the Ancient Romans Set from Memoria Press which is just perfect to add to those Latin studies!

The Book of Ancient Romans Set ~ A Reivew by Tess at Circling Through This Life

Turtlegirl is my lover of all things Latin and when I discussed using The Book of Ancient Rome along with the Student Guide to flesh out her Latin Studies she was very excited. As soon as the box arrived she absconded with the book and disappeared.

The Book of The Ancient Romans Set includes the the history book, a Student Guide and a Teacher guide. Originally written in the 1920s by Dorothy Mills, the history book went out of print.  Memoria Press has republished the book and produced the Student and Teacher Guides. This program could easily be a full year history course for middle school aged children. This program can be used by high school students but older students will want to work through the program at a quicker pace. We found this to be a wonderful supplement to supply a study of Ancient Rome to go with our Latin Studies.

There are 25 chapters in the book which are divided into 26 Lessons in the Student Guide. Each Lesson lists the corresponding pages of the book in parenthesis. Older students can work independently by reading the pages and then completing the assignments in the Student Guide. After every 5 lessons there is a review lesson. Tests are included in the Teacher Guide and can be given after Review Lesson.

Each lesson of the Student Guide contains four parts:

  1. Facts to Know ~ Many of these are people, some are vocabulary words
  2. Vocabulary ~ These are words the student needs to define
  3. Comprehension Questions ~ These are more essay type questions. They are not simple fill in the blank or multiple choice. Each question is followed by several blank lines.
  4. Activities ~ I think this is my favorite section. Most of the activities are timeline and map work assignments but some are writing assignments such as “Research and write a paragraph on the history of the calendar” or “Research the persecution of Christians during Nero’s reign. Write a paragraph describing how Christian beliefs differed from the Roman religion.”

TurtleGirl's Thoughts:

I very much enjoy working through this. I like how the questions are usually about the "main players" or main events. I also like how concise the questions are. Also, the period of workbook time to reading time is a little skewed, since most of the time I spend more time doing the required reading for that lesson than I do working through the workbook. This is not specifically a problem, but it is something I noticed. In addition, I like the fact that, aside from Mom grading and checking my work, I am almost entirely independent. This works really well for us.

Turtlegirl enjoys reading the Book of Ancient Romans


My Thoughts:

I think this program would make a great spine for a complete Ancient Rome study for multiple ages. Mom could read the book aloud and require independent reading appropriate for different ages. She could use the workbook as is for grades 6 and up and use some of the Comprehension Questions for group discussion or oral narration with the youngers.

I really like how this can be used independently by older students. The Teacher Guide is really more of an answer key rather than a tool to help teach but I appreciated having the answers so that I could easily check Turtlegirl’s work without having to read the book and figure out the answers myself. I also really liked that the tests were included with the Teacher Guide.

Turtlegirl notes that the reading and workbook are relatively easy for her, and suggests that for more advanced students, the Book of The Ancient Romans be used as either a supplement for a Latin Course, or a supplement for a larger Ancient Civilizations course. 

Memoria Press

The Details:

Memoria Press Review

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Introducing the Homeschool High School Blog Hop!

Several of us on the Schoolhouse Review Crew will be participating in a brand new blog hop:  Homeschool High School Blog Hop. Each month we’ll be blogging about a topic related to Homeschooling High School.

Intoducing a brand new blog hop Homeschool High School

I am excited to participate in this new adventure. Now that I’ve been homeschooling some high school age children for several years I feel a bit more comfortable with what I am doing so I hope that I have something of value to share.  Homeschooling through the high school years can seem daunting or overwhelming when you first start. For me it is a very different mind set with new challenges.

We will be covering the following topics:

June 24 - Planning for High School
July 29 - Electives
August 26 - Math, Science, Biology
September 30- Language Arts
October 28 - "How am I going to teach High School ...?"
November 25-   How do you fit it all in?
December 30- Graduation

The following is a list of participants.  Be sure to visit their blogs and read their introduction posts! 

Chareen from Every Bed of Roses - Introducing the 2015 Homeschool High School Blog Hop
Jennifer from
A Glimpse of Our Life - Meet The Bloggers of The Homeschooling High School Blog Hop
Meg from
Adventures with Jude - Hints for Homeschooling High School
Cristi from
Through the Calm and Through the Storm - Some Homeschooling High School Friends
Debra from
Footprints in the Butter - My Three (Homeschooled High School) Sons
Leah from
As We Walk Along the Road - Are You Really Homeschooling Through High School?! The Homeschool High School Blog Hop
Michele from
Family, Faith and Fridays - Homeschooling High School Blog Hop
Lisa from
Golden Grasses  
Wendy from
Life at Rossmont - Introducing High School Homeschooling ... {A Monthly Blog Hop}  
Gena from
I Choose Joy!  
Kym from
Homeschool Coffee Break - Meet the Homeschooling High School Bloggers!
Debbie from
Debbie's Homeschool Corner - Homeschooling High School  
Carol from
Home Sweet Life - Homeschooling High School ~ What is it REALLY like?  
April from
ElCloud Homeschool - Introducing Homeschooling High School
Erica from
Be The One - Homeschooling High School
Laura from
Day by Day in Our World
Dawn from Double O Farms - Tapping into Great Resources for Homeschooling High School

My oldest graduated from our homeschool 2 years ago. I remember being scared and excited and worried all at the same time. Would I be able to do it? Would she be scarred for life? Would she get into college? How would I teach those subjects I didn’t even take in high school.  You know those subjects like Biology and Geometry? Are you on the brink of starting high school with your students? Maybe you’ve been home schooling high school for a year or so but feel burned out? We hope that we’ll be able to encourage you, reassure you and yes virtually hold your hand.

Look for the first topic:  Planning For High School on June 24th!

Homeschooling High School at Circling Through This Life


Some Anniversaries Are Just Not Fun

Most anniversaries are fun like the anniversary of your birth or the anniversary of your first date with your husband. My husband and I often acknowledge the anniversary of our first kiss. As a family we celebrate the anniversary of our entering the Orthodox Church.  Some anniversaries though are not so pleasant and are just not fun.

Today is the 2nd Anniversary of Honeybear’s heart attack. Life has slowly returned to a new level of normal. It’s almost as if it didn’t happen. I don’t think about it all the time. I got lulled back into a sense of complacency and forgot how emotional and scary it was.

gratefulness on this not so fun anniversary

And then, I had reason to be at the hospital and it all came rushing back again. Supergirl was scheduled for an MRI (long story maybe I’ll blog about it some other time) and we had to walk through the cafeteria to get to the hallway we needed. Just walking through the cafeteria brought back a flood of memories.

That wouldn’t have been so bad, just walking through the cafeteria but when we arrived at the waiting room for Supergirl’s MRI procedure, I realized we were right next door to the waiting room where I sat and waited while Honeybear had his heart catherization. That same waiting room also has the entrance to the cardiac ward where Honeybear spent a couple of days after being moved out of the ICU.

It’s not fun to remember that Sunday morning.  It’s not fun to remember how scared I was nor how scared he was. But it is a good thing to remember that it happened.  A good thing to be reminded how grateful I am that it was such a mild heart attack and that he has now recovered.

On this anniversary though I am grateful that the recent blood work is “in acceptable ranges” and I am grateful that my husband is back to doing his normal things like planting a garden.



Online Piano Lessons from JazzEdge {A Crew Review}

Last year my family had the opportunity to try HomeschoolPiano from JazzEdge. This time JazzEdge offered a different selection of products for the Crew to review.  We do not have access to a set of drums so we had to pass on the DrumsWithWillie and having already reviewed HomeSchoolPiano, and we didn’t need the Easy Piano Basics course.  Fortunately, there was a third selection: PianoWithWillie. Turtlegirl didn’t hesitate when I asked her if she would be interested in trying it.  “Yes.”

 PianoWithWillie Review by Tess at Circling Through This Life

What Is PianoWithWillie

PianoWithWillie is an online piano instruction program that offers two levels or types of membership options: Studio and Premier. We received access to the Studio level of membership. Some of the membership benefits include:

  • Instant Access Anytime ~ because this is a web based subscription membership you can access the program whenever you want so long as you have internet access
  • Use Any Device ~ Lessons can be accessed from any device! It even works on my Kindle Fire!
  • A Variety of Musical Styles ~ including jazz, gospel and funk!
  • 30 Day Guarantee
  • And more!

Use PianoWithWillie on any device!

Both the Studio and Premier plans offer unlimited streaming access to all of the lessons. Each lesson can be purchased as a download if you prefer to work offline but streaming is unlimited and included in the membership.

PianoWithWillie recommends starting with Piano Start.  This helps to get started with PianoWithWillie.  Beginning piano students will want to complete all five steps. Intermediate and advanced students may want to skip steps 2 and 3.  The other steps will help you understand how the program works and includes tutorials on how to use and navigate the website.

Once you are ready to start Lessons there are two methods to choosing lessons:

1. Choose a Lesson from the Lesson Tab: You can simply click on the Lessons tab and pick and choose which lessons you’d like to complete. If you choose this method there is a tutorial you can watch. This is the archive of the Studio Library Lessons and you can choose a path, or apply filters or simply browser through the lessons.

2. Create a Piano Plan: You can take a 22 Point Assessment.  The assessment asks questions about your interests and skill level and then generates a personalized piano plan. You can create more than one lesson plan.  Currently Turtlegirl has 4. Each one has a different focus based on what she chose for her interest.

Anatomy of a Lesson

Most Lessons are broken down into chapters. Each lesson also has a PDF of Sheet Music you can download, as well as mp3 and midi audio files.

Lessons can be played in full screen and can be sped up or slowed down. One really cool feature is that when you are watching a lesson you can see his hands and which keys are being played.

See his hands playing!

Turtlegirl’s Experience

Turtlegirl is very interested in composing her own music and had already taken piano lessons a few years ago. She took the 22-point-assessment, and generated a personalized lesson plan that would help her improvise. She was very happy to see that she was considered an "intermediate" student. She created a few more Piano Plans because she discovered she needed more help with rhythm and she wants to learn more music theory to help her with her compositions.

The first thing she did was look at the Piano Start. She realized that steps 2 and 3 with their beginning and foundational lessons were below her level, so she took the 22-point-assessment. After that, she would watch the videos. Because she was so excited about the material being covered, she would sometimes just move ahead in the videos without practicing. However, she is working on practicing more often.

Our Thoughts

I think this is a fabulous way for motivated learners who want to play piano and have specific learning goals but for whom traditional lessons may not work. Turtlegirl wants to be able to compose her own music. She wants to play for herself. This program suits her as it allows her to explore music concepts, and skills that she can use to compose her own pieces.

The program can be overwhelming when you first look at the lesson tabs so I strongly recommend creating a Piano Plan.

I think this program is not suitable for beginners though you can work through some foundational stuff.  For beginning students, especially young students or students with no experience, do check out Easy Piano Basics or HomeschoolPiano.

Turtlegirl is enjoying this program and she recommends that by used with students by more experience who want to focus on more specific topics in their piano study.

The Details:


JazzEdge Review

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All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.