A Blog Devoted to Encouraging Homeschooling Mothers

A Blog Devoted to Encouraging Homeschooling Mothers
The Burts in 2013

Friday, May 27, 2011

TOS Homeschool Crew Product Review ~ "Read For the Heart" by Sarah Clarkson (Apologia/WholeHeart Ministries)

Many of you have heard of Whole Heart Ministries, the homeschool ministry founded by Clay and Sally Clarkson. Whole Heart Ministries has joined with Apologia Ministries, and the book "Read For the Heart" by Sarah Clarkson (the daughter of Clay and Sally Clarkson) is a product of the combination of these two wonderful ministries.

For a book lover like me, it doesn't get much better than reading a book all about books. It's even better than a list-maker's dream (which would be a book of lists)! It is a delight to review Sally's wonderful compilation of recommended reading - and this is an exceptional first book from this young author. I look forward to her future work (Sarah is working on a children's novel and a collection of essays).

"Read For the Heart" contains 12 chapters and a whopping 6 appendices! Chapter 1 is filled with examples of "memories" and character traits established by reading large volumes of quality literature. Chapter 2 focuses on literacy in America today. According to a 2004 report, less than half of the adult population now reads literature. Wow! What a tragic statistic! Sarah includes a fascinating description of what occurs in the brain while we are reading (page 36). Chapter 3 explains how to develop a more "reader-friendly" home. Chapter 4 lays out how to use the book "Read For the Heart" ~ how the book is organized, etc. Different types of books are discussed in this chapter,too (audio books, living books, textbooks, books of literary excellence, out of print books, etc). he next few chapters divide books into categories, such as Poetry, Classics, and Biography. Each chapter opens with a lovely quote regarding books. Overall, this is a very inspiring book!

Here are some ideas of how to use this resource in your family's homeschool:

~ In Chapter 4, the History & Biography section divides the reading lists by time period beginning with Creation. You can find the era you are currently studying and choose books that suit your family's needs from the lists provided in Sarah's book. Add them to your daily schedule or, better yet, make those books a part of your family read-aloud time!

~ Consider assigning a chapter of this book to one of your older children. Have that child study the chapter and research a few of the suggested titles. After checking in with mom and dad to ensure the chosen books meet their approval, the older child could start a family book club with one or more younger siblings. Pick up a few copies of the book or books (try for affordable used books). Have the older child choose set the pace for reading and pick the dates and times for the "book club" to meet and discuss the book. Viola! You have a family book club :)

~ Take advantage of anniversaries! On April 12th of this year our country remembered that 150 years ago the Civil War began. What better time to read about the Civil War? Sarah's book provides ample ideas for books you can read as a part of your homeschool. For Civil War books, grab a copy of "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt or "Go Free or Die" by Jeri Ferris. (Our family has read books relating to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Wright Brothers first flight, Kansas State history, and more)

To see a sample chapter, or to purchase this 384 page book for $17, visit
I cannot encourage families enough to read, read, and read some more! Mom, make sure you are reading (first your Bible, and then other quality works of fiction and non-fiction). Let your children SEE you reading. Take them to the library. Read aloud to them. Have them read aloud to you. Buy them books for birthday and Christmas gifts. And read aloud as a family. Our family just finished the book "True Grit" aloud, and have started on "The Scarlett Pimpernel". When we travel, we typically have a book or two that we read while we drive (one of our favorites is "Holes"). My husband and I almost always have a book that we read together in the evenings; we are currently reading "The Retreat", a World War II book which delves into the German Army's retreat from Russia (specifically their attempt to take Moscow). It compares their defeat to that of Napoleon Bonaparte so many years before. Reading ought to be a way of life for homeschool families, and not just during the school day.

The book "Read For the Heart" by Sarah Clarkson will become a treasured resource in the home of any book-loving family and I am so pleased to finish my product reviews for the 2010-11 academic year with such a fantastic book!

Lord bless you and your family as your read for your hearts!

Day 98 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TOS Crew Product Review ~ "Considering God's Creation" by Eagle's Wings


What a pleasant surprise when I was chosen to review this science product from a company that is very dear to my heart - Eagle's Wings! My fondness of Eagle's Wings products stems back nearly 14 years to a time when I was a young mom seeking the "perfect" phonics curriculum to use with my 5 year old son. Now that son is 18 years old and graduated from high school a few weeks ago. In the fall he will attend Wheaton College (a fantastic Christian school - you can learn more about it at Wikipedia). Eagle's Wings phonics curriculum (Alphabet Island) laid a solid foundation for my son's education. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about this company's product line!

Eagle's Wings natural science curriculum, Considering God's Creation, is the subject of this product review. Included in this set are the student workbook, teacher's manual, and audio CD of 23 songs. The teacher's manual lays out each lesson with clear instruction, so mom is ready to teach even if she is hesitant about her ability to teach science. The student workbook contains pages that correspond with each of the 36 lessons; the workbook enables one student to create a memorable notebook (you will need to purchase additional workbooks if you plan to teach mor than one child). The audion CD contains songs that make the memorization of information much easier than traditional rote memorization.


Considering God's Creation is meant to be easily adapted for multi-level teaching. It can be used with students from 2nd grade through high school, and the thorough teacher's guide provided plenty to ways to adjust each lesson to fit your individual homeschool. The introduction provides an excellent explanation of multi-level teaching, and even has suggestions for using the curriculum with children in preschool! Another option with Considering God's Creation is that it can easily be used with whatever science curriculum you might currently be using; you can simply use what fits to enhance the program you are currently using. Not many product offer such flexibilty for only $29.95 ~ it is an excellent value!

If you choose to use Considering God's Creation as a stand-alone science program, it fits perfectly into one academic year. At the rate of one lesson per week, you would finish in 36 weeks. Many of the lessons contain several different parts, so the work can easily be divided over a few days during the week. For the industrious mom, or if you choose to teach using "block" method, each lesson could be finished in one longer sitting. It's such flexible curriculum, you can just adapt it as you need to!


Topics covered within Considering God's Creation include "Creation", "The Universe", "The Earth", "Non-Living Things", "Weather", "The Plant Kingdom", "The Animal Kingdom", "Animal Anatomy & Physiology", "Man", and a miscellaneous section. Having such a broad scope and sequence makes for an exciting year of science. I can tell you from first-hand experience, your children will retain what they learn from Eagle's Wings products. Considering God's Creation is a solid study of the natural sciences from a Biblical worldview. I cannot recommend this company's products strongly enough; they are top-notch.

An example of the content in Lesson 1 includes vocabulary words, songs and poems, Bible reading, notebook assignments, a wonderful feature called "Evolution Stumpers", review questions and a "Digging Deeper" section that has ideas for activities and projects that build upon the lesson and is ideal for older students.

Other products created by Eagle's Wings include their fantastic phonics program, Alphabet Island (sold in different levels or as a complete set priced from $9.95 to $119.95), Kinder-Math ($14.95), Capital Game (for learning state capitals - $8.95), and a wonderful selection of Bible History curriculum ($35 per set). You can learn more about any of these products by visiting the Eagle's Wings website at

Lord bless you as you seek to homeschool for His glory!

Day 97 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Friday, May 20, 2011

TOS Crew Product Review ~ Wordy Qwerty by Talking Fingers


Talking Fingers has a program that combines phonics with typing skills called "Wordy Qwerty". Before I tell you about Word Qwerty, let me say that I am a firm believer in phonics and the ability to type with speed and accuracy is only going to grow in importance in the coming years. Wordy Qwerty provides what I believe to be 2 key components in a complete and thorough education.

Wordy Qwerty is targeted for children in 2nd through 4th grade - keep in mind that my children are older than the targeted audience, so my review is written from a perspective of "looking back" through the years. It might be possible to use Word Qwerty with a child in 1st grade if they were ready for it, and it could be used for 5th grade students (the primary user in my family was my 5th grade daughter).

Wordy Qwerty builds on early reading and basic phonics skills, and teaches 20 important spelling rules. Each rule has an accompanying song that aids with memory retention. Not everything can be learned to a sing-song tune, but I have found that teaching key rules and principals with music helps younger students retain the information and recall it more easily, no matter what subject is being taught.


Moms, when using the online edition of Wordy Qwerty, you will have your own log on where you can track the progress of your children at a glance, no matter how many of your children are using the program. It enables you so see all of your student's percentile grades listed on one page. You can also click on individual student's names to view a graph that shows specific progress in each lesson.

The Wordy Qwerty Home Edition has 20 lessons, and each lesson is broken down into 6 activities. The typing games have "hints" when a word is misspelled, which may or may not be your preferred method of teaching spelling but it really does work. I like the fact that spelling/phonics are combined with typing skills. This just plain makes sense to me; after all, what good is it to type at 90 WPM if your accuracy (i.e. spelling) is 30%? Or vice verse? (And yes, I realize you could not type 90 WPM with 30% accuracy - I'm just making an exaggerated point LOL).There are also catchy songs that help with phonetic recall. There are a variety of games, and they aren't overly repetitive (which is a plus for most kids).


Wordy Qwerty's page for students allows them to see how much progress they have made, which seems to be important in a typing program, at least in my family! The lessons are very "doable" and students can easily work through several activities in one sitting. For example, if you assign 30 minutes on Wordy Qwerty the student could work all the way through all 6 activities (or one entire lesson). I'm not saying that is the way you should assign Wordy Qwerty - it's just an example of the flexibility of the program.

At the website - - there is a free demo available (using the free demo gives you access to a 20% discount on your purchase!). You can also have your child use an assessment module to ensure proper placement and use of the program. Of course there is an FAQ page that answers questions about the entire Talking Fingers product line, and at the website you can find updates, resources, product videos, and more.


Their products include Wordy Qwerty Home Edition (contains program CD, program guide in 3-ring binder, & audio CD of all the songs) and sells for $35; other Home Software products (5 year subscription) from $35-$100 depending on the number of students; CD products (not compatible with Windows 7 or Mac); School Software and CD products; the book "Making Speech Visible" for $18; the book "Our Big Blue Schoolhouse" for $10. Visit their website by clicking here:

Have a blessed weekend everyone!

Day 96 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TOS Crew Product Review ~ Mad Dog Math

Today I am reviewing the math program Mad Dog Math. It is a program aimed at developing mastery of all the math facts in students of all ages. By "all the math facts" I mean addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; by "all ages" I mean Kindergarten through high school. It's an all-encompassing program!


The PC version of this program is very easy to install and setting up accounts for each child using Mad Dog Math is a breeze. It's nice to use a computer-based program that is quick and easy to set up, as most homeschool moms don't have a lot of extra time to spend following confusing instructions! Ease of use is pretty high up on my requirement list when choosing curriculum and I am very pleased with Mad Dog Math is this category.

Right away I liked the fact that with Mad Dog Math, I can choose which level I want my children to work on. For example, when working on lesson plans, it's very easy to assign an older child a timed lesson focusing on the most challenging multiplication facts while also assigning a non-timed lesson on early addition to a younger child. The student is able to choose their own level, too. It's rare to have both options available with PC based math programs, and I have found that kids like the ability to "take charge" of certain portions of their studies. Math fact practice is an excellent way for homeschool students to learn how to take responsibility for their own learning. (Lest you think I am a homeschooling mom who watches TV all day while my kids try and do school all by their lonesome, let me assure you that's not me at all! I do, however, advocate young people gradually taking on more responsibility for their education in order that they be well prepared for college.)


Mad Dog Math is not a stand-alone math curriculum; rather it is a supplement to whatever math program you are currently using. It is created for use with K-5th grade, middle school, and even high school. The daily time commitment for Mad Dog Math is about 10 minutes - I think most every homeschool mom can fit in an extra 10 minutes for math fact mastery!

One of the aims of this program is to keep the "mass" of math facts from seeming so overwhelming to students. A young student can feel as if they will NEVER be able to learn all those facts, while an older student who has struggled with their math facts can be intimidated by how little they feel they have learned. Having the facts broken into manageable amounts provides relief for the younger and older child.

When setting up each account, you can choose English or Spanish (and yes, the homeschool mom in me immediately thought it would be great to have my children choose Spanish so they could practice using the foreign language they are learning!). I mentioned previously that you can choose the level each student works on. You are also able to make selections for time limits, fact families, and with the PC version you can easily see just how much progress each student has made.


At the website you can watch an informational video, look at their full product line, read testimonials, contact them with any questions you might have, and see how Mad Dog Math is best used in the homeschool setting (see the tab titled "Home Use"). They have shared a couple of educational links, too, and they have plans for a online version (coming soon - so check back often!).

Their products include the "Mad Dog Math - At Home" download (a Windows PC app) priced from $19.99 - $39.99; the "Homeschool Mastery Binder" for $69.99 (or as a CD-Rom for the same price); the "Middle / High School Binder" for $89.99; flash cards are available for $14.99; they also sell a cute little timer and some other items online at


This would be a great summer supplement to help ensure none of the hard work you and your children have done during the academic year is lost while taking a break from daily school work. And since it only takes 10 minutes a day, the kids won't feel like they are giving up any of their summer play time :)

Thanks for taking a few moments to read this review - have a blessed homeschool day!

Day 95 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

TOS Crew Review ~ GoTRYBE


GoTRYBE is an online health and fitness program that encompasses a broad spectrum of health and wellness: fitness, nutrition, motivation & wellness. The program is divided into 3 levels (known as "trybes")based on the student's grade level. The trybes are Zoodoos (K-5th), Trybe 180 (6-8th), and Nextrybe (9th-12th). The focus of my review is Nextrybe and my 10th grade daughter has been using the online program.

As this is an online program, a computer with Internet access is a requirement (probably not an issue if you are reading this blog post via the world wide web!). It is very easy to set up a student account at the website ( Within a matter of minutes your child can begin building their own avatar and designing their own workouts. There are a couple of options for the workouts - the student (or parent) can customize each workout by dragging and dropping thumbnails in any order they choose. If you aren't computer friendly, don't worry - it really is a piece of cake to do this (just click on the thumbnail of the video you like, drag it to the place you'd like to do that part of the workout, and you're ready to exercise!). Once the workout has been built, the student clicks on the "start workout" button to begin exercising. When the student is finished with the workout, they click the "Escape" button. Simple :)


There are also full length workouts available at the website ( if you opt not to create your own. Each has a theme, such as Hip-Hop or Sports. Plenty of options available, so everyone should be able to find several appealing ways to stay in shape!

Beyond exercise videos, GoTRYBE offers informational videos, reading assignments, and questions to make this a well-rounded physical education course that can also count as a health credit for high school students. If you are uncertain as to how to assign high school credit for things like P.E. and Health, don't worry; high school credit can be given based on the time spent working on the course. If your student uses GoTRYBE 3 days per week for the exercise videos for the entire year, you can assign 1 credit for the year. Say they also use GoTRYBE 2 days per week as a health curriculum for half the academic year (reading the articles and answering the questions and watching the videos about nutrition, etc) you would assign 1/2 credit. On your transcript you would list the full credit given for doing the exercise videos under "Physical Education" and you would list the 1/2 credit under "Health".

This truly is an excellent program, and my 10th grade daughter has emerged from her GoTRYBE workouts sweaty and smiling! She is a runner and a figure skater, so work outs are an important part of her lifestyle. She is at the ice rink and the YMCA several times each week, in addition to her time spent running each week. She has even done P90X. In other words, she's knows a good workout from a shoddy one and she was thoroughly "worked out" via GoTRYBE! It provides her with the level of intensity she prefers from an exercise program. Being able to customize the workouts was an extra bonus for her.

She also liked the avatar and said it was a pleasant surprise to discover that it wasn't at all "baby-ish". While she really doesn't need much motivation to keep up with her workouts, she felt the avatar could be a useful motivator for some people. As the student logs in and works out, points are earned that can be used to "upgrade" the student's avatar. The items you can purchase are "actually pretty neat, not cheesy" (in the words of my 10th grade daughter!). She also liked the fact that you can do the workouts anyplace, even where you have limited space. GoTRYBE has provided her with many new exercises that have broadened the scope of her workout routine. She is applying what she has learned from GoTRYBE to her time spent at the gym and she really likes the warm ups. The nutrition videos have information that has been helpful to her as she learns about making wise decisions for her long-term health.

As a busy homeschooling mom, I have found some health programs tricky to teach and incorporating P.E. into the daily schedule can be tough to fit into my family's schedule. GoTRYBE provides a thorough program that can be done right at home, even in limited space. It's easy to set up your account, simple to use, and the unique avatars are a plus. GoTRYBE makes physical fitness easy.

If you are considering a fitness program to use during the summer months, or are starting to plan next year's curriculum I encourage you to take a look at what GoTRYBE has to offer. Visit their website at


Lord bless you and your family today!

Day 94 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Friday, May 6, 2011

TOS Crew Product Review ~ "Andi's Indian Summer" by Susan K. Marlow (from Kregel/Circle C Books)


Most of the homeschool families I know are full of avid readers. Most of the homeschool moms I know could be called "book-a-holics". The typical homeschool family's home has books in every nook and cranny. Sure, plenty of those books are textbooks or curriculum. But a big part of most homeschool family book collections are works of fiction and interesting biographies. Today I get to tell you about a book that falls into the category "fiction adventure book".


The book "Andi's Indian Summer" by Susan K. Marlow (from the Circle C Beginnings series, published by Kregel Publications)is the second book in a series of six. Aimed at young independent readers, this adventure tale draws children into the wild west era of American history. The primary theme of the book is a scary old dime store novel that causes the book's main character (a young girl named Andi) to consider what it might be like to be captured by American Indians. Set in the 1800's "wild west" days, this book gives young readers a glimpse into that wonderful and unique period of time that was short-lived yet will never "die".

While you could read this series of books just for the fun of it, Kregel Publications has added some "extras" that make it easy to make these books are part of your language arts curriculum. The chapters are short enough that the book could easily be assigned over the course of several weeks, one chapter at a time. (The book is 76 pages long). There is a "New Word List" (page 7) which is nice for terms your child may not be familiar with, such as "Yokut", "ohum", and "jim-dandy". You could use these as spelling words, too.

You can visit their website to learn more about this series of books - here is a direct link to the Circle C Beginnings Series: These books retail for $4.99 each, but can be purchased for $3.49 each through August 31, 2011 with the coupon code HOME11. There are book excerpts and supplemental materials available at the website as well.

Kregel Publications sells a variety of products that are ideal for the homeschooling family. Available at their website are Bible history books and guides, the Andrea Carter books (also written by Susan K. Marlow for older readers), and a whole lot more. You can browse around their website here:

As you prepare for your lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer, consider choosing some quality reading material to keep your kiddos learning. In a future post I will share some ways you can easily count your summer activities as a part of the coming school year!

Have a wonderful Mother's Day weekend everyone - take time to enjoy your families and do something you truly enjoy! As for me, I get to see my oldest son graduate tomorrow and we will enjoy a reception in his honor on Sunday. It will be a great weekend for the Burt family :)

Day 93 done :)

Jan L. Burt

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Should I Do With All These Books?? ~ Part 2

If you read "Part 1" of this blog series, then you might remember my first 3 tips:

~ Sort Books As You Finish Them

~ Update Your Older Student's Transcripts Right Away

~ Make a List of Books You Have and Books You Want/Need

As you move closer and closer to the end of this academic year, and as spring begins to become summer, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on planning for next year. Now, maybe I am the only homeschool mom who has this problem, and all the rest of you amazing women are able to plan for next year while folding laundry and cooking a gourmet dinner and the sounds of spring outside the kitchen window don't create a distraction for you. If that's the case, I'm probably blogging to myself today :)

Since spring is here and summer is right on it's heels, I really do have to force myself to focus on wrapping things up in a tidy fashion so that I'm not in a panic when August arrives. Okay, I am Type A, I admit it. I do like all things to be done in a fitting and orderly fashion. I don't do well in the midst of chaos and if it weren't for my amazing husband, I would live a life void of spontenaity. But I STILL have to force myself to focus on the big picture at the tail end of each school year. Type A or not, I am just plain tired by the time May rolls around. Here are my next 3 tips for finishing well in preparation for next year:

Shop the Spring Sales and Conventions
You know that list of books you've been working on? Now is the perfect time to use it! Many curriculum companies have fantastic sales during the spring months. And homeschool convention season is in full swing! Take your list with you as you walk through the vendor hall at your state convention. Reference your list as you shop online or browse catalogs - see what's new and what fits your "Want/Need" list. I have 2 simple rules when it comes to curriculum shopping: #1 ~ When shopping online, look around for the best price OVERALL (consider shipping fees, and buy as much as you can from each website). #2 ~ When shopping at a homeschool convention, buy directly from the vendor whenever possible (homeschoolers work hard creating products that work well for homeschooling families - it's kind of tacky to look over their product & then walk 3 yards away to buy it for $3 less...)

Choose to Honestly Evaluate Your Science and Math Programs Now!
Okay, you may be wondering why I feel you need to honestly evaluate math and science curriculum now. We tend to look back and remember things a bit differently than they really were (ever heard the phrase "grandma's cookies"?). By honestly evaluating your math and science programs at the end of each school year, you give your children the best possible learning advantage come next fall. What did you love about science this year? What did your kids love? And what did you NOT love? Ask your kids what they disliked. Do the same with your math curriculum. If you use different programs with each child, then honestly evaluate each one. Write down your honest opinion (and that of your children), set it aside, pray about it for a few days, and then read over it again. Let the Lord speak to you about your curriculum choices (if you are willing to listen, He is willing to guide you). Then move forward - sell what you no longer want to use, update your "Want/Need" curriculum list, and put away any books you will keep for future use. Remember, this truly is the ideal time for an honest evaluation!

Get Rid of the "Junk"
Rather than putting all the eraser-less pencils and dried out glue sticks into the school supply drawer and leaving it for the fall, go ahead and toss the "junk" right now. If you know for a fact that you are not going to use the last bit of tacky glue in the bottle, throw it out. That notebook with 4 pages left in it? Go ahead and toss it. It's a simple but profound truth that you will have a better start to your school year if you have a clean work space & a few new supplies (like notebooks, pencils, and crayons). Take a few minutes now to get rid of the "junk" and you will save yourself the headache of doing it later on when you are ready to begin the new school year.

Those are my 3 tips for today - I'm not certain how many "parts" this series will contain when it's all said and done, but I am pretty sure I have a few more tips to share before I'm out of words :)

Make the most of this season in your homeschool because by doing that, you are paving the way for an excellent new school year come fall!

Day 92 done :)

Jan L. Burt