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Teaching Kids to Sing {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 15, 2012

I was in chorus from 8th grade through high school. It was during that time that I learned all I know about singing, choral sounds, scales, and music in general.  I enjoyed singing all the female parts – alto two through soprano one during my high school days.  I have assumed that my love of music would be passed on to my children and they would naturally love it too and pick up on singing as I did.  Though they do love music, unfortunately, I have been at a loss as to how to teach it to them.  You would think after years of learning myself I could turn those tables around easily and teach it but that has not been the case.  The silly sounds you make to warm-up have been laughable to my children and trying to explain how to breathe through your diaphragm has proved to be a challenge.

Teaching Kids to Sing has helped immensely where my memory has failed me and it has been such fun to do with my kids.  This set of 2 DVDs and 1 CD is targeted for children ages 5 to 13.  Designed by Chris and Carole Beatty, Vocal Coach Teaching Kids to Sing (TKS) focuses on the voice and how it is used every day.  The Beatty’s are publishers of vocal training products for all ages.  (Some of my fellow Crew members reviewed The Vocal Coach Singer – be sure to check out their reviews.)  They delve into topics like posture, breathing, tone, rhythm, diction, and vocal health, among others.  In addition to the instructors, the disks also have children singing on them for a perfect example to the students of what is expected by the teachers.

We used these disks as a family (ages 7, 9, & 11).  It was easy to start each lesson with some breathing techniques and a few scales to get our voices warmed-up.  Then we could take one section, like tone or diction, and watch it then discuss it and put into practice what we saw.  The kids loved feeling their bodies vibrate as a vocal cabinet.  They also liked the internal view of the throat and vocal chords.  They appreciated the video over the CD because they “felt more part of the group of singers” when they could see the kids singing.  (I, personally, didn’t see any difference in one over the other since the songs are exactly the same, but this is what they told me.)

The DVDs are excellent visual and auditory lessons, while the CD is a mixture of vocals and music, and music only tracks.  This is an excellent way for your child to practice the songs that are being taught with help and then by themselves.  Volume one includes:  Posture, Breathing, Tone, and Warm-ups.  Volume two includes:  Rhythm, Diction, Dynamics, and Vocal Health.  The CD is a wonderful compliment to the DVDs as it has the same songs that are taught on the DVDs.
Teaching Kids to Sing

Chris does the majority of the teaching while Carole “adjusts” the children’s posture and plays the accompaniment.  Chris has a very gentle nature and is an excellent music teacher.  He likens being a singer to being an athlete and calls his singers “vocal athletes”.  His point is that singers have to warm-up and practice just like sportsmen do in order to get better and stay fit.  There are lots of warm-up songs to help make this happen.  My kids’ favorite song was the “Loud, Soft, Fast, Slow” song.  They liked all the contrasts.

This series would be great for a homeschool or church choir setting.  When we first got the program we watched both DVDs immediately all the way through, however, these could easily be divided out into sections for ease of an in-depth study.

My opinion?  Disk one was the favorite for my kids.  They learned from both DVDs but preferred the first one.  My daughter pointed out that she thought the kids were a little “babyish” in the second video.  What she meant was that they talked baby-like to her on the video.  She thought they were a little over exaggerated and cheesy.  Overall, this was a great experience for my children.  They enjoyed the rhymes that helped them remember proper posturing and they liked making the sounds on the scales.  My daughter loved the program the most, but they all learned a lot – especially about breathing.  It was wonderful to hear them excitedly tell their father that he shouldn’t clear his throat anymore!  🙂

Available for $44.99, this 3-disk set, Teaching Kids to Sing, can be purchased from The Vocal Coach.  Read more about them on their blog.  Since every family has different needs, be sure to check out the vocal homeschool page, too.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Teaching Kids to Sing for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Institute for Excellence in Writing {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 11, 2012

I have two non-readers left in the house.  I would have to say that my first grader is now not only a non-reader, but he is also a reluctant reader.  He is very much into video games and anything I can give him to do on the computer, but when it comes to actually learning to read, he has little to no interest.  Maybe this is because he has older siblings to read to and for him?  Maybe, since he’s the third child I just didn’t read to him enough to instill that desire to read?  (I hope it’s the former.)  Regardless of the reason, the boy must figure it out as it is time for him to learn.

Thankfully, Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) offered The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew their Primary Arts of Language (PAL) for Reading and Writing set.  Designed to be used together, (unless your child is already reading confidently) PAL is based on Anna Ingham’s Blended Sound-Sight System of Learning, and is built for grades Kindergarten through second grade.  It focuses on the four primary arts of language – listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  PAL Reading concentrates on comprehension, phonics, categorizing words, story sequencing, language memorization, and poetry.  The phonetic games book that comes with the reading side of PAL is printed on cardstock to make it more sturdy for use (yay, for the second child!), however, I also recommend laminating them or using contact paper to keep them nice.  If you do wish to use this program with more than one child, you will need to purchase a second copy of the phonetic farm ($19.00).   The PAL writing side focuses on printing letters, copy work, spelling, and composition.   It has an additional component of “All About Spelling” included that includes a multi-sensory approach to learning.

When I first received this package I was excited to try something new but quite hesitant to jump right in.  I had heard so many wonderful things about Andrew Pudewa and the PAL program that I was elated to have the opportunity to try out these materials, but at the same time…it was a lot of stuff!  Stuff overwhelms me.  There was a lot to read and even a lot to watch – 2 DVD’s, one for each the writing and the reading program.  An excellent video to get a feel for this program has been created by Mr. Pudewa, I highly suggest spending a few minutes to watch.

It was confusing to me at first getting started because of this learning curve, however, the DVDs by Jill Pike were most helpful in sorting through the materials.  (It was helpful to me to watch these on fast forward on my computer as it didn’t take as long to watch them and I still was able to glean all the information.)  There are a few small things you’ll need to buy before getting started, like ink for your printer, a little index card holder, a 3-ring notebook, file folders, a small dry erase board, dry erase marker, and subject dividers, but these were easy to come by and a couple I already had at home.  There are also file folder games that need to be made prior to starting to teach your student.

I really liked that I could move at my own pace.  The program is laid out, yet flexible – I loved this!  There were so many times that my son would be having trouble with a certain section and it was ok for us to slow down and review until he could catch up.  It was also easy to take breaks during the day and come back to PAL.  Easy to pick up and put down – nice!

Our day starts with journal time.  This is a great time to focus on the mechanics of writing, give examples of how to write correctly, and model good spelling, word spacing, and punctuation.  Sometimes we write as if it were a letter, other days we just make a journal entry.  Most of the time the writing has to do with what we’re learning or something going on in our lives presently.  Other times, it has to do with Star Wars.  Since I just write down whatever my son dictates to me, we go with the flow.
Next, we practice letters.  I use the small dry erase board for gross motor control.  My six year old still has trouble holding a pen or pencil so this is a good time to have him practice that technique, but there are no lines on the board so he doesn’t get discouraged.  We are just going for proper letter formation during this time.  There are also letter stories that I tell him about to help him remember how to make the letter and what sound the letter makes.

Next, we read.  Jill Pike includes stories in the beginning that can be read to your youngster, but really any story will work.  I have him recall the story by asking him questions about it.  Sometimes, he can relay the story to me; but most times he needs prompting through my questions.  We discuss the characters, the story’s plot, the setting, the climax of the story, and how the story ends.  I also like to use this time to remind him the role of the author and illustrator, what the title page is, and the table of contents if there is one.

Next come the games for learning and reinforcement, then stickers on the phonetic farm.  Who doesn’t love stickers?  This is a great time for review as well as adding the new stickers for the new sounds he’s learned.  Finally, there is a worksheet that I’ve printed for him to complete on his own and I verbally “test” him on the sounds he’s learned so far.

The second component to the writing program is the “All About Spelling” program I mentioned earlier.  This program by Marie Rippel focuses on spelling by using sight, sound, and touch.  It includes the following:  Letter Tiles, Magnets, a Phonogram CD-ROM that provides an easy way to learn the sounds of the basic phonograms, and twelve sturdy Divider Cards to organize your flash cards.  My son wasn’t ready for this program just yet, but we are looking forward to getting into it soon.  It teaches your child 32 phonograms, basic spelling rules, and how to hear sounds within a word.
My cautions would be that there is a lot of parental involvement in every lesson of PAL.  You will need to be sure to set aside quiet time for you and your little one to work (about an hour total per day) as uninterrupted as possible when working with this program.  I would suggest during baby’s nap time or while the older ones are occupied with something and don’t need your attention.  Also, independent work is strongly encouraged so in the beginning phase, which we still are, you’ll need to train your child to be independent.  This didn’t go over so well for my little guy, but 30 minutes is a long time to expect him to occupy himself on schoolwork.  Secondly, I caution you that there is parental set up needed.  You will need to prepare for each lesson by printing materials and creating games.  This turned out to be a lengthy process for me, but it is required to make the study work.  I engaged my older kids in the coloring of the papers for the games, but I still had to construct them all myself and add to them as needed in each lesson.  Finally, plan to devote several hours to learning how to use the program yourself.  You will not likely just be able to sit down and begin teaching as soon as you receive your package in the mail.  There is a small learning curve that will have to mastered before you can run with it.

My opinion?  We loved PAL.  It is quite the in depth program, but there is so much to be taught and learned within this package of materials.  What started out to be a big program turned into a vast program full of learning and fun for my first grader.  He has learned so much by using PAL and I feel like we’ve only just begun.  It is a great deal for your money and is jam packed with language for your learner.  We are excited to continue using it as my son continues to become a great reader!  And, because the workbooks are printable, I still have one more child that will be able to use this program in a couple of years.  I will just be saving all the games for him!

Primary Arts of Language: Reading is available for $69.00 ($98.00 if purchased separately).  This package consists of the following:  teacher’s manual, DVD, phonetic games, and phonetic farm folders with stickers.  Primary Arts of Language:  Writing is available for $89.00 ($113 if purchased separately).  This package consists of the following:  teacher’s manual, DVD, All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit, and All About Spelling level 1 (teacher’s manual and one student packet).  It is divided into three major parts – printing, copy work, and composition.  Both packages are available from Institute for Excellence in Writing.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Primary Arts of Language for Reading and Writing program for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Grace and Truth Books {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 8, 2012

Grace and Truth Books is an online Christian book store that doesn’t believe in media trends or elaborate book covers.  What they do believe in is “what will glorify God, strengthen His people in their walk, and call all peoples to find joy in knowing His gospel and following Him.”   Though online, this modern book store relies on traditional literature, the kind from generations gone by.  They focus on “a firm understanding of our relationship with the Lord, character-building, and spiritual growth.”

For this review, Grace and Truth Books offered many options – be sure to checkout what my fellow crew mates had to say about the books they read, too!  I was selected for Courtship & Dating:  So What’s the Difference by Dennis Gundersen.  I have been interested in this topic for many years even though my oldest child is only 11.   I feel like I need to be ready for this upcoming period in our lives before it gets here.  I was excited to be able to read this book with the hopes it would clear some things up for me.  Some of the questions I had were:  What is courtship?  When does it begin?  How does it begin?  What does a couple look like that is courting?  How would courting end if it is determined there will not be a wedding?  How do you allow your daughter to court when she’s away at college?

These and many more questions were answered in the Courtship & Dating book.  Some of the answers truly depend on your situation, but I was pleased to find that this book shared options of what courtship might look like in various family situations.  Although courtship is not mentioned specifically in the Bible, many Christians are beginning to lean toward this method of finding someone to marry for their children.  Why is it taking precedence over dating?  It is basically because courting starts in the home.  It relies on parental thoughts and opinions in conjunction with the children and focuses on family instead of the entertainment value of being alone together.  The reality of choosing a spouse is that your life revolves more around work than recreation therefore the selection of this spouse should, too.  Courtship surrounds the courting couple with family and encourages friendship first and only when the child is eligible for marriage.  It ends the series of boyfriends and girlfriends and broken hearts and feelings of worthlessness.
Courtship & Dating:  So What’s the Difference? is really a 90 page book with five other books/excerpts inside.  It also includes “Marriage Without the Consent of Parents” by Martin Bucer, “Observations on Courtship” by Kim Shay, “On Parents and Their Children’s Marriage” by Martin Luther, “Modeling Modesty” by Mary Mohler, and “Modesty, the Best Policy” by Tamika Burns.  So, after 35 pages of courtship verses dating discussion, the reader is taken back in time to the 16th century with Swiss Reformer Martin Bucer.

Then, once again in present time, Kim Shay shares her thoughts on courtship.  She’s read several books on the topic and she shares what courtship looks like in her own family.  I felt like I related most to Kim, as she is a mother as I am and spoke from such a viewpoint.

Martin Luther’s excerpt focused mainly on why parents shouldn’t force their children to get married nor should they keep them from getting married.  He also discussed why he thought the Bible taught that children should not get engaged without a parent’s consent.

The final two passages focused on modesty in women.  Mary Mohler presented several examples of how Christian women can innocently fall into the traps of being immodest.  These were helpful to me because I judge other people easily.  It gave me insight into how simple it is to be careless about modesty and thus fall into a pattern of immodesty.  It was also a bit convicting in that, though I am a modest individual, I could easily see myself in her analogies.  Finally, Tamika Burns shared a short, 2-pages on the difficulties of being modest and how and why you should remain modest is this modern (immodest) world.

My opinion?  A great, easy-to-read introductory book into the world of courting.  (It could honestly be started and finished in one day, so if you need a crash course in courting, this is the book for you.)  I think this book could also be read by older teenagers as well to give them a little insight into why their parents may wish for them to court instead of date.

Courtship & Dating: So What’s the Difference?  is available from Grace and Truth Books for $5.75.   Learn more about the history and people behind Grace and Truth Books here.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Courtship or Dating for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Apologia – Journeys of Faithfulness {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 6, 2012


Earlier this year, I introduced you to Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. by reviewing “Who Is My Neighbor” from the What We Believe series.  Again, I was blessed to be selected to review another wonderful resource from Apologia!  This time it was a book for me to read with my daughter (age 11).  What a growing time we had in devotion together.  This book proved to be an excellent reason to sit down at the end of the day together and read and enjoy one another’s company.

Written by Sarah Clarkson, Journeys of Faithfulness is a 232 page book designed to strengthen the reader’s walk with Christ.  Each chapter starts with a fictional story about a woman of faith – Mary, Martha, Mary (Mother of Jesus), Esther or Ruth.  The story is followed by a devotional, then a short Bible study, and finally a few blank pages for journaling.  The book is broken down into four parts – three chapters in each part.

According to the book’s cover,

Sarah Clarkson is the author of Read for the Heart:  Whole Books for Wholehearted Families.  When not writing she can be found hiking, reading, drinking English tea, and traveling the world with Whole Heart Ministries.  Sarah makes her home in the beautiful foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

My daughter and I decided to have our devotionals at night.  We sat down together in bed and I would read to her.  I found that this was a hard reading for her – lots of large words.  (There were even some big words for me!)  She is a little younger than the recommended age of 12, however, I don’t think her vocabulary will grow in the next six months to the point where she would be able to easily understand many of these words.  (Words like stoic, stymied, unbridled, doleful, obeisance, and tenacity.)  Some of the meanings she easily derived from context, however, I had to define a lot of the terminology for her.

When we got to the Bible study I would read the scripture and then we discussed the questions aloud.  I enjoyed the Bible study part the most with her because I really got to see where she was in her thinking about the story and devo we had just read.  It was interesting to me her insights and viewpoints.  Sometimes she really surprised me with what she had taken away from our study.  The depth at which the study touched her heart was amazing!  Sometimes I find it easy to forget that my children are growing into little adults every day.  Seriously.  I still think of them as little people, not people with which I would have deep discussions.  Sarah’s book brought this false thinking of mine into the light every time my daughter and I sat down to study. Wonderful!

My opinion?  This was a lovely study of Godly women and my daughter and I enjoyed it immensely.  It was such a treat to have a guide to help me traverse her thoughts on topics like love, hope, a quiet spirit, meditation, praise, faith, and spiritual fervor among other things.  The book was packed full of beautiful verbal illustrations of what might have happened in the lives of female Bible characters.  It was a delight to read and helped me to value, even more deeply, devotional time with my daughter.  If, however, you plan for your daughter to read it on her own, I would suggest waiting until age 13 and maybe 14 because of the intense vocabulary.

Recommended for ages 12 and up, Journeys of Faithfulness is available for $13.00 from Apologia’s website.  Additionally, you may read a sample chapter or look at the table of contents to get a better feel for the book.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Journeys of Faithfulness for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Activity Bags {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 4, 2012

Activity Bags Logo

We were planning to (and did) take a trip to the beach in October.  It was a 13 hour drive for my family.  Yes, there are beaches closer to us than that, but none that would also allow my parents to come.  So, we compromised and proceeded to pack and then drive.  And drive.  And drive.  It is on such long trips – without a DVD player or DSI or anything else of the kind – that you begin to long for something to entertain your children.  It is on such trips that you realize without a doubt the value of something without pixels that demands your child’s attention.

Enter Activity Bags.
Reading Games in a Bag
Activity Bags are just what the name says.  Activities in a bag!  Developed by Sherri MacLean, these bags are designed to be created by an adult and then performed by a child with minimal adult help or supervision.  (Please note that there is a warning on all the bags I put together that state “This activity may contain small parts and is not intended for children under 3 years of age. Supervision is required. Plastic bag may pose a suffocation hazard if placed over the head.”)  They were created for ages Preschool and up – and yes, you will enjoy doing some of the activities, too!  😉  The idea is to have everything needed for the activity enclosed in the bag so there is never a need to gather supplies.  Your little one can just pick up a bag and go to work.  Each bag costs about a dollar to make (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less).   Each bag teaches a valuable skill to your child.  For example, matching, alphabetical order, numerical order, sorting or patterning.  The books come to you in PDF format so you must have access to a printer to be able to make the activity bags.

I was selected to review Reading Games in a Bag and Travel Games in a Binder.

Reading Games in a Bag consisted of 20 reading activities.  Each activity included a targeted area of learning, list of supplies needed, instructions for assembly, a label for the bag, and master copies to create the activity.  I had to supply things like card stock in various colors, sandwich bags, gallon plastic bags, small paper cups, unpopped popcorn, plastic page protectors, contact paper, pennies, dry erase markers, felt, and paper lunch sacks.  The areas of learning covered the following:  eye tracking, word recognition, listening skills, letter sounds, sound recognition, memorization, and separating words.

At first, I must admit, I was a little overwhelmed with making the activities.  The PDFs were incredibly long and had lots of directions – or so I thought.  After I got started I realized that a lot of the words were duplicated (like a whole page of the same label, just printed four times).  They did this so that moms can organize a swap.  This works well with a group of moms who all want activity bags but don’t want to make them all.  You assign a single mom the responsibility of making up the same one or two bags over and over – cuts down on the direction reading – for everyone participating in the swap.  At the end of a certain time period, the swap coordinator divides up the pre-constructed bags so that every mom has one of each bag.  After I realized that the directions were set up for swaps, too, it became a little less daunting.

I used the Reading Bags on my beginning reader (7 year old).  Of course, some of the games like charades and bingo needed more than one player, but his siblings were willing helpers.  His favorite games would probably be labeling the body parts, making up silly sentences, and charades.  He didn’t care for the word recognition flash card games as much but I think it was because they were more difficult for him.  He also really liked labeling the parts of a room (which is technically word recognition, but we won’t tell him).

Travel Games in a Binder was a huge hit at my house.  The kids (ages 7, 9, & 11) even wanted to use the binder when we weren’t on the road!  Success!  All the travel activities were printed and then went immediately into sheet protectors.  (One note on this, if you have a choice when purchasing the sheet protectors, get the heavy duty ones as is suggested in the directions.  I accidentally picked up a pack of each regular and heavy duty and the heavy duty worked much better with all the erasing that occurred.)  Then I supplied the kids with a dry erase marker and they went to town.  There were mazes, counting cows, drawing faces, and some multi-player games like tic-tac-toe, road side bingo, and hangman.  My kids honestly liked the ones that didn’t have to be done in the car the best.  They really enjoyed drawing silly faces and the mazes the most.  I found this strange because those are activities they either have access to at home (mazes) or can do on any piece of paper (faces).  However, those seemed to be the hits of the book!  The ones they liked the least were the interactive ones where you needed more than one player.  Maybe they didn’t want to share the book?
Travel Activities
My opinion?  We really enjoyed the bags and binder after we got them made.  It was a lot of printing, so be prepared with extra ink just in case you’re running low.  Nothing worse than getting stuck in the middle of a print job!  (That may or may not have happened to us.)  I recommend both of the products I tried but for completely different reasons.  The binder I loved because it was so compact and easy to use on a daily basis no matter where we were.  The bags were more bulky and had to have a special place in our house designated for them but they were a wonderful asset to our current reading program.   Try them out for free (see below) to get a feel for what you’re getting.  There’s so much that can be done with just a simple bag – the possibilities are nearly limitless!

Both the Travel Games in a Binder and the Reading Games in a Bag are available for $15 each.  A great way to see if Activity Bags are right for your family is to review their website, sign up for the mailing list, and fill out a survey.   (Check out the top of the home page for more information.)You will receive an e-book sampler this way and can make and test out the bags on your children.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Reading Games in a Bag and Travel Activities in a Binder for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Samson’s Classroom {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

October 28, 2012

I’m always anxious to try out new language programs for my kids.  Recently The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew was asked to review an online language program called Samson’s Classroom.  Three of my children were in the correct age range, so we jumped at the chance to participate.
Samson's Classroom Logo
Samson’s Classroom is an online language arts program for Kindergarten through the 5th grade.  It is divided into three different sections:  Sight Words, Spelling, and Reading.  When you subscribe to one you get them all!  The Sight Words section consists of 224 of the most commonly used words in the English language while the Spelling section has a reservoir of over 5,000 words!  All three sections incorporate games for engaging students’ attention and promoting learning.  All new product upgrades are added to your subscription at no extra cost.

Sight Words with Samson is separated into five different steps.  First you choose a list for your student, (there are 28 pre-loaded lists of 8 words each).  Then your student starts at step one:  Learn Words.   The narrator, a very gentle man’s voice, says the word, then spells it, then uses it in a sentence.  Your student can listen to it as many times as he likes and then he clicks “next word” to advance.  After listening and studying all 8 words in the list, your child then advances to step two:  Build Words.  Here, the narrator asks the student to spell the sight words by choosing letters from across the top of the screen.  Step three is Identify Words.  All the words are scattered about on the screen and Samson calls out a single word.  The student selects the correct word from the mix and Samson does tricks to praise the student, then moves on to the next word.  If your child selects the word incorrectly, he is instructed that he is incorrect and a small red “x” appears over the word he chose.  The narrator then repeats the word and sentence and your child then gets to choose again.  Step four is Spell Words.  A list of the alphabet is now supplied to the student and the word and sentence are said aloud by the narrator.  Your child must then click on the letters in order to spell the word correctly.  Finally, Step five:  Missing Word.  The narrator again says the word and uses it in a sentence.  The student must choose the correct word from above the four  treasure chests.  When the right word is chosen, Samson pops out and retrieves the gem inside the chest.  If the wrong word is chosen, the correct word is shown but instead of getting a chance to choose again, the word is marked as incorrect and the narrator moves on to the next word.  At any time during the steps, your child can click on “hear again” for the narrator to repeat the word.  (This is especially nice when you forget to turn the sound on at first.  This happened to us a few times.)
Sight Words with Samson
The next section is Spelling with Samson.  There are four games in the Spelling section:  The Study Zone, Missing Letters, Spelling Scramble, and Crunch Time.  The Study Zone is just an area for your student to study the spelling list.  In the study zone you can print your spelling list with the corresponding sentences or you can just click on a word to hear the word spoken, hear it spelled or hear the narrator use it in a sentence.    Under Missing Letters Samson is decked out in a karate uniform standing behind three letter choices.  The narrator says the spelling word and uses it in a sentence.  The word is partially spelled above Samson’s head.  You have to choose from what’s in front of Samson the letter or letters that are missing from the word.  Your student clicks on the missing letter(s) and Samson karate chops that block.  If your student is correct, the board breaks and points are received.  If your student is incorrect, Samson needs to rub his sore hand or arm and your student chooses again.  He also loses points for each incorrect answer.  For Spelling Scramble, your child controls Samson and sends him running from a spider to pick up letters that are scattered all over the board.  If the spider catches Samson he will get wrapped up in a web.  But never fear, he frees himself and continues to pick up the remaining letters.  After all the letters have been collected, the narrator asks the student to unscramble a few letters at a time to make the spelling words.  Finally, for Crunch Time Samson is balancing on a small ice burg.  The student is asked to type a spelling word into the blank and hit enter.  If he takes too long to respond correctly, Wally the walrus will come bite off part of Samson’s ice burg.  If the student takes more than the allotted time or if he answers incorrectly, the walrus will eat the entire ice burg and Samson will become an ice cube.  If the student types the letters correctly before Wally consumes the ice burg, Samson jumps to the next ice burg and a new word must be typed onto the screen.  After all the spelling words have been typed, Samson crawls into a igloo and the game is over.  You gain and lose points on this game as well based on correct and incorrect answers.

Spelling with Samson
On Reading with Samson, students read a selection of text and then answer a multiple choice question.  If the question is answered incorrectly a hint is given to help the student find the correct answer.  If the correct answer is found with the hint, it is noted that the answer is correct but that a hint was used.  If the correct answer was still not found even with the hint, it is marked incorrect and the correct answer is revealed.  Although Reading with Samson is mostly reading comprehension and word study, there is a game called Hammer Time that can be played for a little break.  It has no educational value that I could tell, but it could be used as a stress reliever.

My children were in agreement with their opinions on this review.  The 5th, 3rd, and 1st grader all liked the Spelling with Samson and Sight Words with Samson the best.  None of them really enjoyed reading the passages in the Reading with Samson section and answering questions about what they read.  However, for me, I thought this section was wonderful practice for them for standardized testing purposes and for letting someone (ok, something) other than mom be responsible for their reading comprehension!  They all liked the karate chopping section and my daughter especially liked the walrus in Crunch Time.  The first grader had some trouble with the timed typing in Crunch Time but he liked the other games.  He especially liked running around picking up the letters in the spider game.  He got a wee bit frustrated that the spider always seemed to catch him – the spider was pretty fast, but since he’d get freed again it all worked out to his satisfaction.  Also, since he cannot read yet, the Reading section of Samson was lost on him.

My opinion?  I believe that the people at Samson’s Classroom are top notch based on the customer service a few of my crew mates received.  It seems to me that they really want to make an excellent product even better and are open to suggestions from those that use Samson.  There is a resource center on the site that gives you ways to print flash cards and has lesson plans, articles, and worksheets to help with your teaching experience.  My children all enjoyed the games and learning that came with the family subscription.  I enjoyed the practice they got that didn’t require me to be right beside them, monitoring their every move and answering a gazillion questions.  This was a great program to promote independent learning and I would suggest it for homeschooling families that want to increase the literacy skills of their children.

Samson’s Classroom is available for one student at $30 per year or 4 students at $50 per year. Classroom pricing is also available.  For more information, check out the three minute video demonstration.  Additionally, there is a classroom demo section so you try it before you buy it.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary family subscription to Samson’s Classroom for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.

Dayspring Christian Academy-A Pilgrim Story {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

October 16, 2012

Dayspring Christian Academy Logo

As the holiday season approaches, I love to reflect on our American heritage.  My family focuses, like so many others, on how thankful we are to have so many blessings in our lives.  We especially love to learn new things about the faith of our forefathers and are fascinated by the things and people God has used to bring us to where we are today in this great country.  What a timely review from Dayspring Christian Academy – The Pilgrim Story.

Dayspring Christian Academy is located in Mountville, Pennsylvania.  It is an accredited Christian School that uses the Principle Approach to educating children.  They describe the Principle Approach as being  “a way of life”.  This approach is restorative Christian education – the way it was  in the first two hundred years of our nation’s history.  There is no set curriculum.  Rather, each teacher uses researching, reasoning, relating and recording to become a master in their subject area.  The purpose of the Principle Approach is:  “equipping young men and women to help restore America to her gospel purpose, thereby helping to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.”

Recently, Dayspring Christian Academy developed an online, self-guided, self-paced, interactive course called The Pilgrim Story.  Unlike the live courses they offer, this course does not meet at any specific time.  It is designed so that you work at your own pace and with your own schedule. It was written by Mary Stauffer, a third grade teacher at Dayspring since 1994, and is geared towards children grades third through sixth.  Stauffer has led multiple guided tours of Plymouth, Massachusetts and lectures on the Pilgrim Story in her community.  You get to “meet” Mary in the curriculum of the Pilgrim Story.  This curriculum includes five units with a total of 17 lessons.  There are extension activities including art projects and map-making to help extend the learning for your children.

We used the Pilgrim Story for supplemental history learning with my 3rd and 5th graders.  The program was jam packed with historical information about kings and Bibles and travel.  We chose to break each lesson down into at least two if not three study sessions because they were so robust with facts it was hard for my guys to absorb it all in one sitting.  It took us between 30 and 45 minutes to do each lesson without the extension activities.  I had originally intended for my two children to do this on their own, but after watching the first lesson with them, I was intrigued and didn’t want to miss anything for myself.  My husband watched one or two with us when he was around and my first grader popped in and out as well.  Everyone was interested!

The program consists of a slide presentation that narrates the story of the pilgrims.  At the  beginning of each lesson there are activity sheets, vocabulary, and note sheets you can print to go along with the lesson.  The course encourages each student to make a notebook of these sheets as well as other activities covered during the study.  We tried to always print those up front so we’d be ready as they were needed, but I was pleased to find that once you are fully involved in the lesson material you can still go back and print these pages without losing your place.  The vocabulary sheets were used as reference materials while the note sheets were fill-in-the-blank pages to pay attention to and fill out while the lesson was going on.  These helped to keep my children involved with the learning on nearly every page.  I was honestly surprised at how well they paid attention and could tell me what they were learning!

The Pilgrim Story

At the end of each lesson are review questions and at the end of the units there are tests (choose between multiple choice or essay questions on the tests) which also helped me to check the acquired knowledge of my children.   I read them out loud and the kids took turns answering each question.  Sometimes my first grader would jump in answer some, too!  I would click to select their answer and the program would reveal whether they’d chosen correctly or not then explain the correct answer.

Most of the slides were information accompanied by some sort of illustration.  A man would narrate while the students read silently, however, some of the slides consisted of interactive tools.  For example, one of them was a book where you read each page and clicked for the page to turn; one was a timeline where you clicked each event and read about the item in greater detail and then closed the screen.  My kids enjoyed this change.  Even though they didn’t mind at all being read to they liked the interaction of the various activities as well.

I decided to only make one notebook with the materials we were using.  Instead of having both my children fill out the paperwork, we did all our filling out by me asking questions or them narrating what they had just learned.  I prompted them for the necessary information if they didn’t share it and made sure that both of them were giving answers.  We discussed together, the three of us, what we’d just seen and heard on the slides and then move on as I felt they had a good understanding.  This was perfect for us because I didn’t have to wait for my third grader to hash out his handwriting and it kept his interest level.  It also made it so that I was learning along with the kids and there was nothing for me to review later and “grade”.  This information was as fascinating to me as it was to them so it wasn’t a chore for me to sit with them and learn right beside them.

My opinion?  My children truly enjoyed learning through this incredible interactive program!  We are anxious to finish the remainder of our lessons and finish hearing the entire story.  I would recommend this program to all parents who want to give their children a solid background of history regarding the founding of our country from a Christian perspective.  We worked on it as a family together, but it is truly designed to be of a more independent approach so that the students are monitored but not “hand-held” – either way works well.

Available for $99, you will have access to Dayspring Christian Academy’s The Pilgrim Story for 6 months beginning within 48 hours of your registration.  To see a short, one-minute introduction video presentation of this product, scroll to the very bottom of this screen.


DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received 6 months access to Dayspring Christian Academy’s A Pilgrim Story for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.