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Online Skills Practice With Essential Skills Advantage (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

We do not do much in the way of standardized testing in our homeschool, and because of this, I don't specifically teach those "tested" skills. But sometimes I think it's a good idea for the kids to practice those skills that may be falling through the cracks with our regular curriculum. I like to look for programs or workbooks that might give them practice in some of the expected skills for their grade level.

Online skills practice

We recently had the opportunity to review the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage. Essential Skills Advantage is an online program that offers the opportunity for students in grades 1-6 to practice some of these basic, standardized skills. We received a one year membership for two students.

Charlotte NC Field Trip Ideas: The Carolina Raptor Center

Although I grew up around the Charlotte NC area and have lived here my entire life, I'm always finding new-to-me fun places for field trips with my kids. This past week we found ourselves at the Carolina Raptor Center. 

I had heard of the raptor center and had even been there in my very early teaching days. But I rode in on a bus and supervised a horde of wild beasties. I didn't remember much except the fact that the place existed. But I knew it was there and thought it would be a great place for my soon to be high school senior who wants to major in some type of wildlife/zoology science and work in conservation. It turned out to be a small but very interesting facility. It did spark Kathryne's thoughts about different career paths and another way that she could put her interest in animals and their care and conservation to use.

Carolina Raptor Center

The Carolina Raptor Center is located inside the Latta Plantation Nature Reserve in Huntersville, North Carolina. The area was beautiful, and I would love to go back just to spend more time on the Nature Preserve. Besides the Raptor Center, the Nature Preserve is home to an Equestrian Center, the Historic Latta Plantation living history farm, hiking trails, fishing, and picnic areas.

Tips for Surviving (and Enjoying) Family Vacations

Family vacations: sometimes the very thought brings chills to my bones. Over the years, I've had my share of family vacations. Since Jason and I married, we've gone to the beach every summer with his family. And the kids were slowly added as they came along. We've also traveled to the mountains. We've gone to Virginia several times. We've gone on various day trips. And we've also traveled to Disney.

I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of traveling. Adding kids to the mix hasn't made it better. But over the years I've learned a few tricks and tips to make things go more smoothly.

family vacations
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Everything is better with food.

Pack plenty of it. Fill the car with healthy munchies- granola bars, fruit strips, crackers, nuts, pretzels.

Be sure to secure the food well. True story: On one trip to the beach, Kathryne was 2 and Charles was a baby. We still had a car, not a van yet. Both kids were stowed safely in their car seats. And a bag of munchies was positioned on the seat between them. Periodically we would hear the bag rustle but didn't think much about it. When we were close to our destination, we were going to stop for lunch. We took the kids out and went in to eat. When we got our food, Kathryne was ridiculously thirsty and drank and drank. But, surprisingly, she wasn't very hungry. Returning to the car, we checked the bag stowed between the kids. A whole bag of pretzels was almost gone. Apparently Kathryne had been helping herself. No wonder she was so thirsty!

Be prepared to stop and stop frequently. 

No matter how hard we try, we can't manage to have everyone use the bathroom at the same time. It's gotten a little easier as they've gotten older. But we still can't make it with less than several stops. We're all happier if we can just accept the fact and move on.

We try to have some planned stops. There is a Visitor's Center on the way to the beach that has become a regular stop. It offers "free popcorn and cokes" in the smallest little cups you've ever seen. But it's fun for the kids and is clean. Sometimes I look ahead and pick stops that might be fun stops- little shops, once a small farm museum, a playground. It doesn't guarantee you won't have to stop at other times, but it does help.

Sometimes it's good to travel at night.

If we can travel at a time when the kids are normally sleeping, we can occasionally get lucky and have them sleep all the way through it.

I say normally because there was one particular time when our plan failed miserably. We were headed home from the beach and decided to leave after supper. We had all four kids by then, but they were still pretty young, probably 2 to 8. We ate supper with Jason's family and then we stopped at a clean rest area and had a "bedtime." We washed off with baby wipes. We brushed teeth. We put on pjs. We had a bathroom trip. I even read a story. But the kids didn't seem to get the message. Some of them got silly and giddy. Some cried and wailed. But nobody really slept. Until we were about 30 minutes from home. Then they were all asleep.

Working for little periodic rewards can help the kids pass the time.

My mother actually came up with this idea on a very long car trip we took when I was small. She bought a box full of small, dollar store type goodies. She had a timer set, and at the end of each block of time, if I had done well, I got one. I've tried variations of this on many trips, and it does help to break up the time.

Bring good listening material.

We've used a variety of Audio books and music CDs. Some of our favorites have been

If you have an Audible membership, you can easily get tons of audio books on your device. This post has lots more about audio books.




With some planning and patience, vacationing with the kids can actually be fun. One day you'll laugh over that trip that should have taken five hours but took twelve because you stopped so many times. I promise. And I should know.


Should You Really Homeschool Year Round?

It's that time of year. My kids' friends who go to traditional school have begun buzzing about being out of school for the summer. As usual, we get the question "So when do you finish school?" Ranked right up there with "What grade are you in?" this can be a tough question for homeschooled kids. Because, you see, many of us homeschool All. Summer. Long. Yes, really.

More than once- probably many times- my children have gone to answer the door to the neighborhood children around 10 or so on a summer morning only to break the bad news that they can't play right then because they are finishing school. I'm sure that this has caused our neighborhood kids to be supremely glad that they do not homeschool.

Year round homeschooling

Once upon a time, when I had only young children, homeschooling in the summer was an obvious choice to me. As my children get older and the family goes in more directions all summer, homeschooling through the summer hasn't been so simple of a choice. And I've had to rethink some of those ideas I've had about year round homeschooling. What I've come to realize is that, perhaps, this is one of those things that changes in different seasons of life. And that it's important to look at everything that is going on in the family as we make a decision about homeschooling through the summer.

10 Great Living Books for Your High School Kids to Read This Summer

Whether you homeschool or send your children to a traditional school, summer is a great time to encourage kids to read. Libraries have reading programs for all ages- I've even won a drawing in ours! And reading great books is far preferable to sitting in front of an electronic device all day.

If you're looking to encourage your child to read great books, but it's hard to make time for that, I encourage you to have your child read ten great living books this summer. Make a contest of it. Offer a reward for reading. Make electronic time dependent upon time spent reading. Do what it takes to encourage your kids to read some good books this summer.

In this series, I've been sharing ten great living books for each age level. You can find posts for other ages linked below. For the younger readers, make sure you pick up your free reading record and coloring sheet by subscribing.

High school summer reading list

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- Okay, it's a book that will appeal more to girls. But, Jane has such spunk and is such an awesome heroine that boys will like her too. (Or they should.) I'm a little prejudiced toward this classic about a young girl growing up in hard times, finding true love, and ultimately riding things work out in her favor. It was my favorite book in high school, and I don't even know how many times I've read it. The most recent video adaptation is pretty good, but don't watch it until after reading the book because the book is always better.

Practicing Math Facts With a Brand New Game (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Using games to learn or practice skills can often be much more fun than other ways of learning. Memorizing math facts can sometimes be tedious, but when you can play a game with them, it's much more fun. The Review Crew recently had the opportunity to review a brand new game from a brand new publisher- Sunya Publishing. (This link gives some description but doesn't have a way to purchase the game as yet.)

We received Sunya - The Magic and Wonder of Math and Science Multiplying & Dividing. There is also an addition/subtraction version of the game. I wanted to use the game primarily to practice multiplication and division facts with Ashlyne and Rachel- 12 and 10.

Math practice game

What comes in the package?

Looking for a Classical, Hands-On Approach to Ancient History for Elementary Kids?

When I was in school, the school's approach to history was not a classical one. We spent the majority of our time on American history, covering the same ground year after year. I don't recall any world history until high school. And then I loved it! But it was only for a year or two, and it seemed as if we breezed through any ancient history and then hit all of the more modern wars. I definitely wanted more ancient history.

And then I began homeschooling. For most of our homeschooling career, we've used a classical approach to studying history- beginning with the ancients and cycling through to modern times. We haven't dwelt on American history very much until this past year. Instead, we took a look at American history in relation to the bigger picture of world history. Studying history this way has sparked my love for the subject even more. And I've found that I especially love ancient history.

Ancient history for homeschool
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I was excited to see the new Heroes, Heroines, and Tales of Ancient History from Amy Puetz. I've reviewed materials from AmyPuetz.com several times before, and I've always loved the style of her materials and the focus on providing good reading material as well as hands-on activities. Because I'm going to hit ancient history in my cycle with my younger girls- 5th and 6th grade- next year, I was especially glad to see this ancient history curriculum come around.

Awesome, Creation-Based, Online Science Curriculum From Science Shepherd (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

I have to admit that it is sometimes difficult to make time for the "extra" subjects like science when the kids are elementary-aged and I'm doing most of the teaching. It's much easier when they hit high school and are doing all of their subjects independently. But for the younger crew, I usually only fit science in two times a week.

I've seen online science curricula and wondered if this could be the answer to this problem. If the kids could work independently online, they could fit in science more often. The problem is that I want a creation-based, Christian-worldview science curriculum- especially in the lower grades, and I haven't been able to find that in a good online course. Enter Science Shepherd. We had the opportunity to review Introductory Science from Science Shepherd for a recent Crew review, and we've found a new science curriculum that we love.

Video science curriculum review

We received the Introductory Science video course- which is a twelve month access, Workbook Level B (I purchased an additional workbook so that both Ashlyne and Rachel could use this course.), and an answer key for the workbook.
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