Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Home School Navigator (Homeschool Review Crew)

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum is an elementary-level program with a unique approach to teaching literature and other language topics. Six color-coded levels help elementary students develop literature, grammar, spelling, and writing skills. Jude and Damien have been working on the blue and green levels, respectively, for this review.

The color-coded leveling is a unique identification approach. Most programs delineate levels by grade or by age, which can be a bit of an issue if you have a child who is not on par with his grade or age. Most of Jude's language arts skills have finally caught up to his age; some have even surpassed what is expected of a child finishing fifth grade. However, because he was a later reader and closed the gap quickly, he went from easy-readers to novel series in about 18 months. This means in trying to keep up with what was reading-level appropriate for literature, he missed some of the more basic skills usually learned in the early primary years. Home School Navigator colors begin with red and follow the rainbow to indigo. Conveniently for Jude, the approximately 4th-grade level blue doesn't say it's for kids "younger" than his almost-6th-grade self. Conversely, 2nd grader Damien doesn't get a swelled ego being put "up" into 3rd-grade equivalent green.  I like this system for keeping egos boosted or in check.  When you begin, you have access to all levels so you can place your child where you think he should be, and then work up or down a level if it doesn't seem a good fit. About a month in, you will make a final decision and lock in your choice.

THEY USE PICTURE BOOKS!! I THINK THIS IS BRILLIANT. It's like using Unit Readers, with shorter stories that cluster in a topic but using a stack of "real" books, not a textbook. This is a different approach than most programs, especially for big kids. They are all about chapter books, and reading a chapter a day, etc., and if it's not a book that kiddo likes (or one that it is and he wants to know what happens next) it's TORTURE. Here, the books are shorter, so they can find out the ending in a sitting. And I think the program doesn't leave really good "picture" books to the preschool shelf but shows them as quality for all ages. The titles for the stories are carefully chosen. Each month centers around a theme. I like that each year revisits a variation on the same theme. All levels do Fairy Tales in Month 1, an author study in Month 2, etc.

While some held favorite stories, we've discovered some new loves.  Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (Mo Willems) was deliciously sarcastic and amusing.  Because it's nice and short, it is easy to read and parse on the same day.  Because it is a classic-caliber book, there are enough layers of construction to study that it doesn't feel like "fluff."


In the green (approximately 3rd grade) and blue (approximately 4th grade) level programs, there were also interactive notebooks used to study longer novels. (They also are used at the indigo/5th grade level.) These are longer projects, taking about a week or two, in addition to the small-book studies. These reinforce what the student learns in the daily lessons, making him ready to transition to novel-only studies at the middle school level. (I'll explain more about the interactive notebooks below.)

I am a big believer in independent reading. In high school, we had a daily ten-minute "Sustained Silent Reading" block, which was probably my favorite part of the day. (I would have preferred a six-hour SSR, but generally, I'd choose to read over anything else. Knowing I have a deadline is the only thing getting this review written; otherwise, I'd still have my nose in my current book.) One of the tick-boxes for the daily program is 30 minutes of reading a "just right" book. The "just right" method has solved a problem we were having here: Jude's ability is much higher than his comfort zone. Isn't it amazing when mom says "that's too easy," she can't possibly be correct, but when "Not Mom" says so, it's completely legit?

By using their technique, Jude realized that his beloved Magic Tree House series novels were not "just right" books; they were much too easy. We kept moving through books until we found one that was not too comfortable, not too challenging, but just right. His "30 minutes a day" has turned into "I finished my time, but can I keep going for another hour? How about two?" He also discovered that the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was not "too hard" for him, and in the space of a month has mowed through that five-book series as well as five-book The Heroes of Olympus series. (He's already asked me to get him "everything else by that author." Mr. Riordan, please write faster! We're going to run out of books soon!) Damien still prefers to discovered while he still prefers the comfort of easier Geronimo Stilton books when he's reading on his own time, he's found books like Charlotte's Web and the "Little House" series are good, too.

There is also a portfolio maintenance option. Once you complete a day's work, you can take a photo with your computer or phone and upload it to your child's file. If you live in a state where you need to compile and submit a portfolio, this would be very handy. We don't have that requirement here, so I didn't upload things. However, I have friends who do live in a state that does, and I can see where it would be beneficial (especially since the uploaded pictures means you don't have to keep a thousand pieces of paper from September until June).

Do you sense a "but" coming? Unfortunately, there are a few that quickly wore the shine off this program for us. Let's just call them "heads ups."

I liked the idea of the interactive notebooks.  They focus on specific elements of the novel, rather than being a more traditional "all literary topics the author threw in here" project.  I liked this perspective and approach.  However, they are in a lapbook style.  I agree with the company's theory,  because it is something different from the daily work and helps create an entirely separate feeling "project" for the novel study.

However, we have learned the hard way that lap books, while a great hands-on, interactive format for learning, just are not ideal for this homeschool.  The reality of this style meant there was more focus on the cutting and assembling than neatly writing correct answers. I have not included pictures of their assembled books because, frankly, I'm embarrassed to show how many cross-outs and re-writes there have been. I think one of our projects will be to re-copy them, and I'll update with those photos.  (It will be a lesson in "If you don't want to have to re-do something, pay attention and do it right the first time.")

The program price includes the curriculum and interactive notebooks, but NOT the literature books.  (The interactive notebook studies are also available ala carte.) If keeping costs down is an issue for your family, this may be an issue. If you have an excellent local library, then you can likely acquire most of these books from there. (I know some other Crew members had difficulty getting some of the titles from their libraries.) If you're like us and live in a rural area with limited library services, you might need just to purchase them directly. I was able to buy ours from Amazon. Some came directly from Amazon, while others were from third-party secondhand resellers. There were several instances where a "gently used" book was more economical, but there were also quite a few books that were no longer in print. We had to take a chance on some that might not have been so well treated. Luckily, our books were in reasonably good condition.

Because of this, Home School Navigator has begun uploading read-aloud videos. This came in handy for Damien's first book.  However, while I do like read-aloud books, I think it is difficult to do a detailed literature study without a book follow along with or to refer back to.

Word study is built in as well. The basis of the program is a "word wall" where the vocabulary/spelling words are posted and added to mostly daily. We wound up skipping much of this activity because we didn't have a place to create a word wall. Because the boys already do separate spelling and vocabulary studies, I didn't feel they missed anything academically because of the program, but it was a portion we weren't able to utilize fully.

I also felt the grammar presented was more of a review than instructive, so I found myself still assigning the boys their usual grammar. For example, one lesson was called "Banish Boring Verbs" and discussed choosing verbs that were less over-used.

 Grammar is combined with writing, so it is not something specifically focused on daily. However, there was no review of "This is what a verb is and does," and the first time that year a student worked on any formal grammar skill.  I felt there should have been a quick review, and then dive into manipulating into synonyms.  If your child does not have strong grammar skills, I would use this for extra practice, but I would still use a separate, formal grammar program

The program is marketed as a "turn it on and go, no planning required" curriculum. This is mostly true; you can print the lesson plans/worksheets for the week, put them in a binder, and hand them over to a kid. He can then go back to the online program and follow along with the video lessons provided. However, for a program that also markets itself as family-friendly, offering discounts for enrolling multiple students, it is not friendly when it is time to do schoolwork. Only one student could be logged in at a time, so there was a constant jockey for "whose turn is it."

Finally, there are optional poetry studies, which are a nice addition to round out literature studies. However, they are not from a single book or source, and for copyright reasons, are not included with printouts. We were able to google the poems; some were easier to find than others. In order to work with them, Jude copied the poems into his notebook.

I wish that they had chosen poems from a single volume, where it would have been a "Here's the poetry book, turn to page ___!" situation, and not letting a kid loose searching the internet.

Will we continue to use Home School Navigator? Yes and no. I think the core literature study part of the program is well-constructed and worth keeping, and much of the writing as well. Despite disliking other parts of the program, I still really do like this approach. Each language arts component is reasonably independent, so skipping one part does not mean kiddo is losing chunks of interactive study.I think I will either adapt the interactive notebooks to suit our needs or just look for other novel-based studies to substitute and continue with our usual grammar and spelling.

Discover the other levels of Home School Navigator and how the Crew fared with them by clicking the banner below.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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Friday, May 4, 2018

CodeWizardsHQ (Homeschool Review Crew)

One thing on Matthew's "wish list" for electives is learning how to code.  I've been looking for a program, but he's in an odd age bracket. Most of the programs we've found are online guides targeting elementary-age coding hobbyists, rather than actual classes presenting a program that could be high school credit-worthy.  We were given the opportunity to experience and review a class from CodeWizardsHQ, which has a different approach to coding for students in grades five through ten.

CodeWizardsHQ provides weekly live, instructor-led online classes in a small group setting.  Each class has six to eight students, so you get a real interaction with both the instructor and other students.  Students can ask questions, and have them answered in real-time.  The instructor also has their screens mirrored at her location, and she can help target any single-line errors before they cause a cascade of problems.  While they are homeschool-friendly and have a homeschool group option, the company welcomes children of all educational backgrounds. Classes are available in afternoons and evenings, making it ideal for both home- and traditionally-schooled students.  If your child has an exceptionally busy week and misses a class, there is a video option for viewing the course material and "Office Hours" to get one-on-one assistance from an instructor if he needs clarification.

The program has four levels of instruction in practical, real-world coding languages. All students, regardless of age, start at the first level. (If you have coding experience, there is a placement exam to test out of the lower levels.)  The first level consists of three twelve-week courses that cover Introduction to Programming, HTML/CSS, and Javascript.  (There is an accelerated summer program that covers these three activities. These sessions last for three weeks of four classes each.)  Level II instruction includes courses in Front- and Back End Developments and Web Design.  Level III progresses to Mobile App Development, Advanced Algorithms, and Data Science.  The program culminates with Level IV's Internship program, which places students in six-month internships with partnering non-profit organizations and allows them to gain real-world experience. 

Certificates of proficiency are issued at the end of each program, creating achievements that can be highlighted on a college or job resume.  This made the program very appealing to us because it would provide instruction that had a practical application to Matthew's long-term academic and career goals.

The class' instruction platform is GoToMeeting.  CodeWizardsHQ recommends using a headset with microphone for better sound quality, but you can use the ones native to your computer.   Normally he would use a headset, but since I was sitting in, we used the laptop's devices.  The sound quality was fine for us. We didn't really need the microphone, as most communication was through the chat feature.  However, I think the microphone might be used more in long-term class sessions.  Though our instructor, Lynn, did her best to foster a good camaraderie, I think our group was on the quieter side and content to communicated through texting.  It might be different in a long-term class, where students have a few months to get to know each other better.

Lynn asked everyone to introduce themselves with the answers to three queries: what is their preferred name, what was something fun to know about them, and why do they want to learn coding?  She introduced herself as a Seattle-based Front End Developer with over 20 years of experience in the field. She is also an artist.  Matthew responded that he likes picking things apart and wants to be able to write video games.  Lynn told him that's a pretty common reason why kids take their classes, and if he was interested, further study could get him in that direction.

The class' goal was to build a simple comic strip on a web page.  First, Lynn walked the students through the interface they'd be using.  She gave them a brief history of HTML, along with a few pertinent definitions. then they began building.

One thing she pointed out is the kids aren't in total control of the web page.  There is some coding that is pre-written and clearly delineated with "Do not edit above this line" or "...below this line."  This means that things like the page background, social media share buttons, etc. are available (and intact!) when students are done.  While Lynn did show them how to find/create their own files for customizing their web pages, most of what they worked with were files that had been pre-loaded to the class site. It appears nobody blew up the internet (including my kid), so I call that a win.

For this class, there was a good deal of cutting/pasting/changing, as opposed to writing from scratch. I don't think this means the instruction takes the lazy way.  I know when I've done even simple coding, I've tended to work in "batches" - where I'll cut/paste a frame and then enter in modifications. It takes too long to write the same things over and over, so I will set up the framework of what I want and then just edit in the different details.  However, it is easy to get lost in what you've pasted and need to change, so being attentive and careful was an area where they were given special attention.  This class was more to show reviewers how the classes worked, and the kids got a simple project.

I laughed when I saw Matthew's page. I thought it was quite humorous.

I noticed that he was pretty quick at running with the ideas.  He has a little bit of coding experience (he is an avid Minecrafter and has built a Kano computer), so he had a basic understanding to build on.  He really enjoyed the class and is lobbying to be enrolled in the regular program. Quite honestly, it's been some time since I've seen him this intense with schoolwork.

I don't usually comment on the cost of programs that we have reviewed, but I need to give other parents a heads up. The regular program costs $149 per month, and each class takes about 12 weeks to complete.  (The accelerated courses have the same overall cost, but paid in $149/week increments.) If your child has serious dreams of going into fields that require coding knowledge and experience, I think CodeWizardHQ is a worthwhile investment in your child. However, it is expensive, and I would feel my review was a little misleading I didn't share that when you add it up, it does lead to a bit of sticker shock. However, there are scholarships available, so I'd look into those before ruling the program out.

I was impressed with the caliber of the class.  I think what Matthew learned was simple enough that the class wasn't overwhelming, but he didn't feel like anything had been dumbed down.  (CodeWizardsHQ recommends their course for ages Normally there would be a project to be worked on during the week between classes, but for a single self-contained class, I felt like he learned quite a bit in the time they had.  I need to figure out if we can work them into our budget, but we are seriously considering this program for him.

If you'd like to see an overview video about the program, click the video embedded below.  To read about other Crew families' experiences with CodeWizardsHQ, click the banner below!

Live Class Computer Programming for your Students {CodeWizardsHQ Reviews}

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

YWAM Heroes of History: Thomas Edison (Homeschool Review Crew)

This review of Thomas Edison: Inspiration and Hard Work is our fifth review for YWAM Publishing.  It is always a blessing and an honor when vendors come back to the crew, especially multiple times, because it means that we are doing a great job with sharing their products.  However, the blessing is not one-sided. I am always excited to work with these books because the Heroes of History series is one of my favorite history resources.  When we've reviewed prior volumes, Luke or Matthew has read the books and worked on the Unit Studies that accompany the biography.  Our reviews have always come at a time when we're just about at that point in history, so it's a tiny jump to that person's story.  This time, Matthew is studying WWII, and ready to re-visit one of our prior reviews, Douglas MacArthur.  That meant Jude got to pick a new book -- and it's pretty exciting when a fourth child gets something new and not a hand-me-down. He chose the biography of one of his favorite inventors, Thomas Edison.

If you ask people, "Can you name famous people from New Jersey?" their lists would be short. Sure, we have Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen in current times,  but most people can't name too many historic New Jersey residents. Most do not realize President Grover Cleveland was a native son, or that President Woodrow Wilson was also from our state.  General George McClellan, Commander at Antietam, followed his military career with a political one, becoming Governor of New Jersey.  However, Thomas Edison tops everyone's list of "Historic New Jersey People." After all, he was nicknamed, "The Wizard of Menlo Park."  Between his inventions and being from our state, that makes him one of Jude's favorite people.

Most biographies focus on Edison's time in New Jersey and his inventions here. Janet and Geoff Benge's story goes all the way back to Edison's childhood in Milan, Ohio, and the very beginnings of his curiosity.  A four-year-old Thomas Alva Edison, nicknamed Al, was full of questions.  At first, they were wonderings about what life would be like for the people he saw heading west in prairie schooners.  His curiosity soon got him in trouble; he nearly drowned in a wheat silo and burned down the town's flour mill.  Though he was nearly twenty years younger than his siblings,  nobody remembered to tell Al he was only a child, and treated him like an equal.  This did not bode well for when 8-year-old Al headed off to school.

Jude found he really identified with Edison here.  He, too, does not learn in a mainstream way.  Like Edison, he only lasted three months in a regular school.  Al's bout with scarlet fever left him with impaired hearing; Jude has issues with auditory processing.  As much as she wanted her son to attend a particular school, Mrs. Edison recognized her son's potential, the damage that school was doing to him, and taught him herself.  I don't claim to be raising another Edison, and there were far fewer fireworks when we withdrew Jude, but I feel a kinship to his mama.  It's not easy keeping up with a curious mind.

The story continues through Edison's adulthood, as he invented and worked in telegraphy, and highlight not only his triumphs and his struggles.  It includes a retelling of when he sold a stock ticker patent to a New York company.  For a child of the rural midwest, New York City was overwhelming.  He had hoped to sell his patent for five thousand dollars, but would settle for three.  The Gold and Stock company offered him forty thousand. That would set him up with a better workshop in nearby Newark to create even more things.  Edison didn't allow near-bankruptcy to stop him; he reapplied himself until he was in the black again.  Then, he moved to Menlo Park.

Jude was particularly interested in this section, because we have been to Edison's workshop in Menlo Park.  It was here that Edison perfected the light bulb, lighting the town with incandescent light on December 31, 1879.  He developed a way to make Bell's telephone transmit sound better, and then took that knowledge and created the phonograph machine.  He determined a way to electrify New York City, and moved his young family there.  Unfortunately, just as the now father of three was reaching success there, he found himself a widower.  We learned how he reinvented his life again, with a new family and a new research facility in East Orange, New Jersey.

I don't think it's giving away the ending too much to say that Thomas Alva Edison died in 1831, at  the age of 84.  The Benges end the story dramatically, including the news reports of his death.  Like many of the newspapers, they quote his speech to the National Electric Light Association.  Like the writers of the past, they chose fitting last words to honor a man who was motored by the repetition of experimental science.  (Sharing those words would be giving away the you'll just have to read that part yourself.)

As with the other Heroes of History stories, there is an accompanying Study Guide. Like the others, there are hundreds of activities and resources that you could do. Thankfully, you're given explicit permission that you don't have to do them all.  Think of it as a giant brainstorm for all things you might want to do, all in one place.  Then you can decide if you want your child to do traditional things, like answer discussion questions and write essays. If you have a "tinkering" style of learner, like Tom was, there are hands-on activities suggested.  (And while I'd suggest adult supervision, most are not likely to risk needing to call the fire department.)

Because Jude is only in fifth grade, we didn't do much of the unit study on paper.  We're at the point where we are transitioning from "early reader" or "elementary overview" style books to content-driven biographies.  I used the concrete questions to check if he was understanding what was written, saving some of the more open-ended discussions for another time.  One thing I really like about both the books and study guides is they are adaptable for so many ages.  When my high-school level boys used them, they were great for independent learning and writing practice.  For Jude, formal writing is an emerging skill that we haven't really begun to transition to every class, so I was happy to be able to discuss topics with him to help him work through a dilemma in his head and verbalize his thoughts, without the stress of organizing paragraphs.

Included with the guide are suggestions for further reading on Edison, including both children's and adult-level books.  While I will have Jude re-read this book again (likely with a more cursory middle school American History course), long-term planning has me wondering if a third trip through the book when he gets to high school is worthwhile. I can see me keeping the book itself for a long time (he's already made me promise to keep it so he can read it again), but by then it might be good to have a new book to read.  Having the list and the notes about individual suggestions helps me choose books that are good quality.  In the meantime, there are other books now on his wish list, such as Thomas Edison: The Great Inventor (Ed. Caryn Jenner) because of the description.

Once again, YWAM has blessed us with a fantastic book and study. We're very happy to add this to our growing collection.  Jude has moved on to reading the other editions we already have, and is making a list of books he wants to read next.

If you'd like to read our prior reviews follow the links below.  Click the banner below to read this current round of Crew reviews.

Ronald Reagan, Destiny At His Side
Douglas MacArthur, What Greater Honor
Abraham Lincoln, A New Birth of Freedom
George Washington, True Patriot

Christian Heroes, Heroes of History & Study Guides {YWAM Publishing  Reviews}

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Planet 316 Story Bible and App (Homeschool Review Crew)

My children have no idea what it is like to live in a world without the internet in your pocket.  It seems half of my conversations with the kids start out, "You know, back when I was your age, we didn't have..." I was older than Jude when we got our first computer; the tower was the size of a preschooler, and we had those 5 1/4 inch square disks that you handled with the utmost care.  (I think at first we weren't even allowed to handle them - if something needed to be saved onto a disk, my parents had to do it for us.) We had a family Bible that we also needed to ask for assistance with, and only to look up passages assigned for homework. Imagine their confusion when they learned that 3D was cutting edge technology, too.  Jude's observation: "Wow, Mom, you must have lived in the Dark Ages or something." Thanks, kid. We were given the opportunity to review the Planet 316 Story Bible and its companion Planet 316 Story Bible App, complete with augmented reality technology.  The concept of this package, produced by Planet 316 and Worthy Kids/Ideals, blew me away.  Their response? "Wow, it's just like Pokemon Go!"  I suppose if I am going to be studying a Bible, I might as well be humble, right?

Planet 316 Story Bible

This collection of over 100 Bible stories retells the highlights of that enormous family Bible in a portable and accurate but child-friendly story format. It's a perfect introduction to the Bible for young children.  Most of the stories are contained within a two-page spread, but generally, the illustrations seem to dictate the length.  For example, the story of Jacob's ladder is only actually one page of text and flows into the second page with illustrations.

The text of the story of Moses would easily fit across two pages.  However, instead of being condensed on a similar form, is two two-page spreads to allow for the pictures to tell the story as much as the words do.

The illustrations are simple, which makes them perfect for the recommended 4- to 7-year-old group.  I would recommend it for even younger preschoolers as a bedtime read-aloud.  The reading portion would be completed before a child loses interest in listening; the pictures draw them in but are not distracting.  The figures are slightly caricature-ish, but not inappropriately so; they have a child-like quality to them that I really appreciate.  They follow classic illustration techniques with good guys having big, expressive eyes and the less-good ones having smaller, beadier ones.

Color plays an important role as well.  The background of Sodom and Gomorrah glows with its destruction and contrasts with the clear, Eden-like beauty of Mt. Moriah surrounding Abraham and Isaac.

Even without the AR App, I think this would make a fantastic gift for any child.

 Planet 316 Story Bible App

I have to admit, I thought this was clever. I was afraid it would be gimmicky, and just be a way to sell a new Bible. As just a book, it compares evenly to the storybook Bible we already had.  The Augmented-Reality enabling app (free/no in-app purchase on both App Store/Apple and Google Play/Android) is what makes this Bible stand out. With the app, the story "jumps out" into 3D (no silly glasses required), and is accompanied by animation and audio.

Damien decided we needed to vlog a review.  I agreed because photos truly do not do this interactive feature justice.

The interactivity is well done, because the experience is not limited to, "Look! The pictures pop out." Tapping on the pictures adds background music, animation, and dialogue.  I appreciate how some of the animations added details to the story, while others added personality.  As I said, the Bible alone would make a good "short story" read, but the app turned it into a lively experience.

I have to admit, this is one of the most fun reviews I have done in quite some time. I know I kept taking the Bible back and checking stories "so I could write the review," and I know Damien is looking forward to the review being done so I stop asking for it.  Had anybody asked me all those years ago if there'd be a pocket-sized computer to bring the Bible to life (no floppies required!), I would have thought them crazy.  I would argue this review is proof that God sees a much bigger picture and has a terrific sense of humor!

60 Crew families have been reading and playing with this Bible. Check out their reviews by clicking the banner below.

Planet 316 Story Bible and Bible App {Planet 316 Reviews}

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Creation Illustrated Unit Study (Homeschool Review Crew)

The Crew offered us the opportunity to review two nature-based unit study programs from Creation Illustrated.  The first was called Snow and the second was Pine Trees.  They are two of eight unit studies that the company currently offers.  Snow goes with the Winter 2018 edition of Creation Illustrated magazine, while Pine Trees can be found in the Fall 2018 volume.  (Note: Links are to digital versions of the magazine.)

The Unit Studies

I have a love-hate relationship with unit studies. I love the concept.  I also have kids who tend to latch onto ideas and run ultramarathons with them.  (Sometimes I wonder how Luke could not have one the science fair in 8th grade.  They asked an Aspie child to explain the mechanics of paper airplanes. I wouldn't have been surprised if they offered him the medal just to stop talking!) I'm always excited to start a unit study and really dig into a topic. The part I struggle with is that by the end I'm usually burnt out and over the concepts, and tired from having to gather up the information and supplies we need.  I often feel very discombobulated by the end -- like we've done a lot of work, but haven't much to show for it.  I think I actually feel differently about the ending of these, for several reasons.

I opened our PDF download of Intricacies of Snow and found there were a lot of embedded links to video and text resources. YAY!!  With these links, the study is almost entirely self-contained.  The exceptions are a few physical items, like a Bible resource, the materials to make snow crystals from Borax, etc.

The studies are in a "notebooking" format.  Another point in their favor.  I've seen so many lapbooking-style studies, and I think sometimes that adds to my sense of "Aren't we done this yet?" because there's so much cutting and pasting to them.  Printing these particular studies as a whole didn't make sense because of so many hyperlinked resources, so we wound up using them from the computer and a composition notebook for the writing.  (Even if you print the PDF out and place it in a binder, you'll need some looseleaf for some of the assignments.)

The only thing to watch out for, however, is if you give your child access to the PDF, he also has access to the answer key.  Jude generally is pretty good at leaving those alone, but some of my other kiddos have not been.  It's definitely tempting having the answers right there! I do like that those pages are pink, not white. It makes them easy to find when I'm looking for the answer, and also easy for me to spot from across the room if someone is taking an unauthorized peek.

When we started this, we were coming to the end of a fairly low-snow winter. The line between "north and west" and "south and east" is generally right at the edge of our township.  When Philadelphia gets snow, we got freezing rain.  When the shore points get pounded with snow, we got more ice.  It also was nearing the equinox, when the sun angle is about the same as late September.   Snow that falls this late in the season doesn't usually stick to the ground.  But lucky for us - and to prove God has a sense of humor - as we worked we got pounded with a slightly east-of-normal nor'easter that left us almost eight inches of the white stuff! It gave us the perfect opportunity to get out there and study it first hand!

Note: A few of the activities are better if you do have some snow to study. However, if you are studying this in a warmer season or climate, you won't miss out on much, just studying some snowflakes in person. You can easily YouTube videos of snow to re-create everything except direct observation.

The purchase page says the target age is grades 3 through 8, but the Snow and Pine Trees studies each specifically said it was primarily for students in grades 5 through 8.  I think there are some things that younger students might be able to tag along with, like watching the included videos, taking turns reading the Bible verses, etc. An older elementary student might even be able to keep up with the science sections.  However, the math is definitely a bigger-kid section, as is vocabulary.   Because it's so brief, and not really something that, as a curriculum, can be revisited again and again, I'd reserve it for the older kids.

This unit study uses KJV references for the Bible section.  As Catholics, we use the NABRE translation, so when the boys need to look something up, we generally just use our Bible rather than looking up an online King James Bible.  The actual differences in word translation aren't so much of a problem... i.e., "snowy day vs. time of snow," and you get the same idea with clothing vs. raiment being "white as snow."  However, you may find that the particular chapter/verse passages may not align. Here in Psalm 57, you can find references to snow regardless of translation, just not in the exact same spot.  The study asks the student to read Psalm 51:7, which in the KJV translation is:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
However, Psalm 51:7 in the NABRE is:
Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me.
and Jude needed to read down to verse 9 for the "snow" reference:
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
Theologically, it's the same concept, but it's not the same Bible location. I often need to adapt curriculum when there are Bible translations involved, so it's not something new that would keep me from using the program. However, it is something to keep in mind that I need to address, either before I hand over the packet or to remind kiddo, "If you don't find it right there, read a couple verses on either side and come get me if you can't find it nearby."

Another reason to look ahead if you're using a different translation: you also may not find the answer at all!  In Job 9:30 from the NABRE, it says:
If I should wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye.
with no mention of snow at all.  We googled the KJV Version:
If I wash myself with snow water, and cleanse my hands with soap. 

The writing activity assumes your child knows how to write an essay.  Jude is working his way up to multi-paragraphs, so we focused on a single paragraph about his favorite snow activity: making snow angels.

While we've been working on the Snow unit study, I peeked ahead at the Pine Tree unit study we also received.  It is nearly the exact same roster of activities, including Bible study, vocabulary, geography, math, and writing exercises.  (Again, check the Bible verses if you're not using KJV because there's at least one that I've found (so far) that the NABRE translation differs enough that kiddo can't answer the question.)  Snow's math focuses on multiplication and fractions, but Pine Tree's math section explores the concepts of writing equations and the Fibonacci sequence.  I love that it explores so many different types of pine trees.  In our travels, we've seen everything from the white pines we planted on our property line as a windscreen to the lodgepole pines that top the mountains at Yellowstone. I think pine trees are a great way to study God -- pines are as similar yet as unique as all of His Children.  I'm looking forward to doing this one.

Creation Illustrated Magazine

Each edition of the magazine focuses on finding how creation is illustrated "In Nature,"  "In Scripture," and "In Living."  The publisher's goal is to provide a balance of mental, spiritual, and physical renewal in each month's offering.  While Creation Illustrated is appropriate for all audiences, it is very homeschooler friendly, with discussion questions at the end of the magazine for several of the articles.

Each volume also features coloring, photo, and poetry contests. The article we read for our Unit Study, "The Intricacy of Snow" by Brandy Dixon, was from the Winter 2018 edition.

I was impressed because this article used science to explain God, rather than God to explain science.   As Catholics with a belief in theistic evolution, sometimes I find that creation-based studies are almost (or sometimes wholly) bludgeoning Creationist.  Dixon's article beautifully balanced God's presence and work in all things with the scientific explanation for them.  For example, we know that at the center of a snowflake is a dirt particle that forms something for the ice crystals to seed against.  However, rather than going on about how God was so smart in how He got the snowflakes started, she compares that dust speck that to the unfortunate sinful nature of humans.  She goes on to examine this "dirty particle" that through layers and layers of something else (ice for the snowflake, God's grace for us humans), we wind up with a one-of-a-kind work of art.

One thing I noticed by reading through the magazine is that while the one article is mentioned in the Unit Study, there was an explanation of snow on page 66 that was not part of the unit study.  It described three reasons God sends snowstorms: to correct, for the land, and for mercy.  I noticed that the Bible verses Jude read and studied were among those chosen to support these reasons. I wish this article had been included as a resource.

Others have called it, "The Christian answer to National Geographic," and I think that's a fair assessment.  Articles are researched, written, and illustrated well.  The major articles center around four major topics:

  • Creation Up Close - Seeing God's work, plan, and love in a specific part of His creation
  • Re-Creation and Restoration Outdoors explores how God uses nature to bring us back to Him
  • Creatures Near and Dear to Us - God's way of designing animals mimics how He cares for us (plus, the "aww, so cute!" factor!)
  • The Creation Week - a sequential study of the earth in the context of the story of Creation.  
These Creation Week articles are more clearly Creationist and mention/discredit gaps in evolutionary theory.  However, I think it deftly handled the conversion of Antony Flew. It also prompted me to google Flew, so points for motivating curiosity!  He was a British philosopher who ascribed to an "atheist until somebody can prove God exists" mindset.  His studies converted him to deism when he realized that there may be scientific proof of evolution, but there are some principles that simply cannot be explained other than" the hand of God was involved."  I think this describes our family's philosophy well, so I'm comfortable sharing these with the kids without having to do too much "Well, this is how some think, but we believe something different..." I can just say, "This is a well-written article, read it."

After reading both issues of Creation Illustrated that we had access to, I am seriously considering a subscription for our family.  My only complaint about the digital version of Creation Illustrated is the print is tiny.  I tried to zoom in and make it easier for us to read, but then it seemed to slide all over the screen, or the page turned too easily.  Taking screenshots and enlarging was impractical as well - you can see how blurry the text got by looking back at the screenshot of the discussion questions above.  I think if you were only using the magazine to complete the unit study, it would work fine, as long as you are patient.  If you're interested in reading and using the magazine on a regular basis (it publishes quarterly),  I would really recommend springing for a subscription to the print edition. 

I'm really impressed with these two unit studies. They're not in-depth enough to teach a language arts math, science, or "how to research a topic" concept on a middle school level, but they're a well-thought, well-organized way for a child to practice any of these skills he has learned.  The Spring Edition of the magazine will be available soon and will be accompanied by a new, ninth unit study on BUTTERFLIES!  These are some fantastic creatures, and after working with these two unit studies, I'm excited about this new release.

Other crew members have been working with these unit studies.  Click the banner below to read their reviews!

Creation Illustrated Unit Studies {Creation Illustrated Reviews}

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