Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Green Book

My daughter is finishing up a new science fiction book titled, The Green Book written by Jill Paton Walsh. This short 84-page book is suitable for upper elementary grade level students in 3rd-5th grade.

The story is about a family boarding THE LAST ship leaving a dying Earth. They travel for four years on an old ship with little fuel in order to land on a distant planet which will become their new home. They must learn how to survive and live on this unfamiliar planet with the other refugee families. Shortly after they begin to settle and form a colony, they realize that nothing on the planet is edible and they wonder if they will be able to grow plants on the new planet. To find out what life is like on this new planet and if they'll survive - you must read the book.

We made a connection while reading the book. The parts of the story reminded us of the Netflix show Lost in Space. So if your children are fans of this popular show, then you may want to consider having them read this book over the summer.

I also just wanted to let you know that I will be posting a review in July for an accompanying Progeny Press e-Study Guide for this book. Keep a lookout for it!
Hopkins HomeschoolHomeschool Coffee Break

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Flubber: A Summer Bucket List Activity

Alyssa made Flubber in a Mason Jar on Friday. It was a pretty light blue color. Sta-Flo liquid starch contains sodium tetraborate which acts like boric acid and baking soda making it into a slime that is squishy and stretchy. Kids just love making homemade flubber or slime! Be sure to add this activity to your family's summer bucket list. Click on the word Flubber above to find a recipe to try.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Eastern European Firebird Art Project

Today I am sharing my daughter's art project from this week. She used colored pencils, markers, and oil pastels to create her masterpiece, the Eastern European Firebird. She's thinking about creating a new one using just oil or chalk pastels next time in hopes to make the feathers glow and stand out more. She listened to and read the folktale about the Eastern European Firebird's glowing feathers that light the way through darkness before working on the project. The Firebird is a popular folktale in Ukraine and Russia. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Homeschool Review Crew: New American Cursive 2 - Famous Americans from Memoria Press

Memoria Press

We requested New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans) from Memoria Press to review this year after completing Workbook 1 years ago. I wanted to build on what my daughter was taught in the first book. Furthermore, I believe that children should learn cursive. Research states that children who are fluid writers and have learned handwriting tend to do better in Reading, Spelling, and Grammar. They also have improved written communication skills, fine motor skills, and memory skills.

Product Description
The New American Cursive series is an innovative penmanship program that eliminates 26 unnecessary strokes as seen in other traditional cursive approaches. This simplified letter formation method with fewer strokes was developed by Iris Hatfield, an experienced handwriting specialist with over 35 years of experience. 

We received a physical copy of the 145-page consumable penmanship workbook in the mail. This is NOT a reproducible book; it is meant to be completed by one student. The pages are printed in black and white with an easy-to-read font. This secular spiral-bound book is intended to be used with elementary-aged children in 1st-4th grade. The landscape binding at the top makes it easier for students to write especially if they are left-handed. 
New American Cursive 2 (Scripture)

A Reference Chart showing the alphabet (uppercase and lowercase) and numerals written using New American Cursive is printed on the back of the front cover. The workbook begins with an Introduction which discusses the importance of children learning handwriting. It also mentions the benefits of teaching penmanship at an early age. Children gain a sense of accomplishment and learn self-discipline when learning to write fluidly in cursive.

The Table of Contents lists the titles for the lessons and indicates the page numbers. The book consists of 125 instructional lessons. There's usually only one or two lessons per page to complete. The lessons are categorized as follows: Instructional, Practice, Fun Exercises, Journaling, and Artwork. The 8-page Teaching Guide that is included in the book discusses the 3 P's of Penmanship: Posture, Pencil, and Paper Position. It also mentions that the focus should be on the 3 S's of Penmanship after students have mastered letter formation. The 3 S's are Size, Spacing, and Slant. Furthermore, the book discusses the purpose for each type of exercise. For example, Instructional pages are meant to review and reinforce letter formation and learning. Alyssa traced and wrote letters as she compared her formations. The Quotations were selected in order to develop character and penmanship. The Art and Fun Exercises were chosen to develop the child's imagination and fine motor skills. The short words utilized on the Practice Pages were designed so that children could focus on writing neatly and legible. Students are taught how to evaluate their own writing. The book not only presents handwriting practice pages, but it contains creative writing and journal prompts. The Journal pages were created as special "free writing" assignments to increase the child's imagination, develop better penmanship skills, and develop a love for creative writing habits. The guide also lists additional ways to teach children writing, offers assessment ideas, lists teaching tips, and shares information about their Penmanship Contest.   

The author provides the teacher with a reproducible Handwriting Evaluation Checklist on page 132 to check the student's progress throughout the year periodically. She also encourages children to listen to classical music while working on practice pages. It is highly recommended that students work on a lesson for 15-20 minutes on a daily basis.

There's a alphabet chart on the back cover that utilizes arrows are to show the directional steps for writing lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and numbers. Reproducible practice pages with line heights of 18, 24, 30, 36, and 42 are found at the back of the book. The author also provides the user with reproducible journal pages for extra practice.
Alphabet Reference Chart
Size 42
Size 18 Lines

How We Used New American Cursive
New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans) was utilized 3-5 times per week for approximately 15-30 minutes each day by my 10-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who is about to complete her 4th grade year. She has a lot of experience with different cursive writing programs over the years. We worked through the workbook in sequential order. She completed 2-5 pages per day. Younger children with some cursive writing experience could easily complete one page a day.

The book begins with a review of letter and number formations, the pencil holding or grip position, types of letter connections, proper paper placement, posture, slants, neatness, and spacing. She reviewed the three main letter connections: Grins, jumps, and smiles. She even had the chance to read a letter written in cursive. The book also covers different writing styles and provides the child with practice pages. The lines gradually decrease in size as her writing skills develop over time.  
Reviewing Alphabet
Reading Cursive

Consistent Slant Exercise 

Test Pages
 and Dictations were also included in the book. In the first photo, Alyssa was writing all the uppercase and lowercase letters on her Test Page. She also wrote a quote from her Holes book that I dictated to her on her Dictation page.  
Test Page: Letter Formations
Holes Dictation
Two letters at a time are taught on the Instructional and Practice Pages. As you can see in the photo below, Mr. Meerkat used direction arrows and starting dots to show her the correct letter formations in the top-right corner. Then, she traced and wrote each letter about 6-8 times. Next, my daughter practiced letter connections within a word and wrote the word several times each. Lastly, she would indicate her best cursive letter and word by circling it. The icon at the bottom of the page shows her the correct pencil position. The Practice Page gave Alyssa the chance to write words that begin with the letters Q and R while practicing letter connections. The student is frequently reminded to use correct form, spacing, posture, and pencil positioning.     
Instructional Page for Q and R
Letters I and J
Correct Posture
Practice Page Q and R
Correct Spacing 
Practice Page K and L
Correct Letter Form

The quotations added to the book are famous words from a variety of well-known Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Wooden, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There weren't as many quotations as I had expected. The Quotation exercises were my favorite part of the program. Several different activities were presented such as writing the quote several times in a row, drawing a related illustration, and even explaining the meaning of the quote in your own words. This gives the child time to really think about the quote they are writing. The photo below is an example of a Benjamin Franklin quote Alyssa wrote twice, "Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them." She drew a picture of a friend helping another person. She also evaluated her own work by placing a checkmark next to the neatest quote. Then, on the next page, she was asked to describe and write how she could be kind on smaller size 18 lines.   

Alyssa read an excellent biography about Benjamin Franklin this year so she was happy to learn several new quotes by him mentioned in the book. She has plenty of drawing space. The quote shared was "A place for everything, everything in its place." My daughter had the task of drawing things she liked to organize. As you can see she listed Shopkins, tea bags, and Hatchimals. 

Alyssa explained the meaning of the quote, You cannot win if you do not begin." She wrote her response in cursive. Notice that the placement guidelines have disappeared and the line size is much smaller.  

My daughter wrote about a pet cat we used to own named Gypsy on one of the Fun Pages. Plenty of drawing space was given for a matching illustration. The Fun Pages and Journal Pages provided variety in her routine so she didn't get bored with lessons.    

Write About Your Favorite State

My daughter truly enjoyed the Journal writing assignments in the book. The prompts were simple and short. Alyssa wrote about several things she was thankful and focused on evenly spacing out the words. This prompt did not provide her with white space for an illustration.    

The book consists of three evaluations. She completed Evaluation One found in Lesson 12 shortly after we received the book. It asked her to "Write a page about why handwriting is important and what you would like to improve about your handwriting. Use your best cursive handwriting. Sign and put a date at the end." An evaluation grade can be given if desired.   

My daughter will complete Lesson 85 (Evaluation Two) which is found on page 93 this week. She'll be writing on size 18 lines. The lesson states that she must "Write a page about your favorite subjects in school. Use your best cursive writing. Sign your name and put the date at the end. Check Evaluation One to see how much your handwriting has improved." I can't wait to see the progress she's made in such a short amount of time. I can already tell that Alyssa is writing neater and not rushing through her work.

Our Thoughts
Alyssa was excited about using the New American Cursive workbook series again. We both still prefer this book's cursive writing approach. She'll continue to utilize the book next year and in her free time. Her cursive writing has definitely improved, her speed has increased, and she is also writing letters and words with more accuracy. Beautifully, legibly written letters, words, quotations, and passages are weaved throughout the pages of this workbook. The process seems easier and smoother since she's gained experience over the years writing in cursive. She's definitely a more confident writer.

My daughter can read cursive writing with more accuracy as well. She can't wait to write letters in cursive to family members over the summer with hopes that they'll respond back in cursive. It is an exceptional penmanship program emphasizing an easy-to-follow, gentle approach to writing!

Alyssa's Thoughts
I like how you can illustrate your writing. They also reviewed and reminded me about smiles, grins, and jumps. The book slowly works its way from letters to paragraphs. The lines also get smaller. Mr. Meerkat is a cool mascot! It has test pages and other ways for me to grade myself that teach me to be honest with myself about my work. My favorite part of the program is that it lets me test myself and teaches me different types of cursive. The creative writing prompts were fun!    

Different Writing Styles Introduction

What We Liked
  • Simplified Approach with Fewer Strokes
  • Writing and Grammar Integration
  • Grade Levels Not Indicated 
  • Spiral-Bound Format
  • Variety of Writing Exercises
  • Self-Evaluation Built-In
  • Multi-Sensory Approach
  • Usage Flexibility 
  • User-Friendly
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  1. Add More Famous American History Quotes
  2. Only One Writing Prompt Per Page with Drawing Space Included

The New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans) workbook costs $22.95. There are two versions of Book 2: Famous Americans and Scripture. It can be purchased at the Memoria Press website. No teacher's guide is required to teach the lessons. The price may be a little more than other penmanship programs on the market, but this unique handwriting program offers more than just a copywork book. Your child can flourish while they practice their creative writing skills. 

Note: Price subject to change without notice.

New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans) could easily be utilized in a homeschool environment or in a private school classroom setting. I highly recommend the book to individuals implementing a secular or classical education approach. If the traditional workbook approach appeals to you, then you may want to consider using this book with your children. If you have children with some background knowledge or experience with cursive writing, then New American Cursive 2 might be a perfect fit for your child. Furthermore, if your child enjoys writing, then this book would be an ideal program to try. I suggest that the first New American Cursive book be completed prior to attempting the second book so that the child can familiarize themselves with the technique. The concepts taught in the second book build on the previously learned skills and methodology of the first book.  

Memoria Press offers several workbooks within this series for you to choose from depending on your child's background experience with cursive writing.    
New American Cursive

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You can check out the other Crew member reviews for the New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans) book and other products offered through Memoria Press on the Homeschool Review Crew blog. The following programs were recently reviewed:
New American Cursive & Traditional Logic {Memoria Press Reviews}
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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Homeschool Review Crew: Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary from The Critical Thinking Co.™

The Critical Thinking Co.™

The Critical Thinking Co.™ offers an assortment of critical thinking and logic resources for various subjects so I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to review a physical copy of the Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book.
The Critical Thinking Co.™

The Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary resource is a 38-page paperback book written by Diane Hartsig. It is geared towards children in 5th-12th grade. Adults wanting to improve their critical thinking and vocabulary skills can also use this award-winning book. The colorful pages immediately appeal to the eye. It also contains a generous reproducible license which means you can reproduce each page for use within one home or one classroom.

The book consists of 12 mystery detective cases that span across a two-page spread. A variety of mysteries were presented in the book. Each vocabulary word is relevant and key to solving the mystery detective cases. All of the cases utilize the same format making it easier for children to solve the case. The sentences in each case are numbered in a smaller font size. The font type and size were readable and pleasing to the eye. A limited number of necessary images or illustrations are scattered throughout the book. The images were usually of the employee witnesses or suspects who were all of the same gender.
Table of Contents Lists Crime Cases
Two-Page Spread of Case #1

Alyssa needed to identify the meaning of 18-25 unfamiliar vocabulary words featured in each case. Words such as peremptory, unencumbered, and abrogate were introduced in the 10th case. Other cases included the following words: Chastisement, callowness, fecundity, decrement, harangue, and inveterate. You can see additional words taught during the 10th case in the the word bank image below. 

A fill-in-the-blank vocabulary activity follows the mystery. This is an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to utilize the vocabulary words featured in the crime cases in a different context. Children can look at the words in the helpful word bank to identify words that complete the sentence correctly. The vocabulary words must make sense in the context of the sentence. Words can only be used once and you won't use all of the words.
Completed 4th Crime Case: The Ring Coveter
Fill-in-the-Blank Sentences

A short bio blurb about the author is included at the beginning of the book. Mrs. Hartsig is passionate about children's acquisition and language usage. She wrote Vocabulary Riddles and A-Z Catastrophes (Books 1 and 2). The Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book also begins with a one-page About This Book and How to Solve These Mysteries introduction.

The answer keys are found at the back of the book on pages 26-37. The answer key reveals images of the suspects in question. The guilty individual is circled in red. They thoroughly explained the reasoning for why suspects were exonerated or implicated. The statements that proved or disproved guilt were indicated by the numbered sentences so that you can refer back to or locate the clues from the case in order to understand the outcome better. Furthermore, the company provided the user with a chart showing the appropriate vocabulary word synonym meanings within the context of the case. This is extremely helpful and enables you to make sure your student is using the correct definition of the vocabulary word. The fill-in-the-blank answers are listed by question number.   

The book is complete for its purposes, but it is not a full curriculum. It helps develop reading comprehension skills, vocabulary, observational skills, problem-solving, deductive an inductive reasoning, decision-making, dictionary, critical thinking, grammar, logical, and analytical thinking skills. By addressing these skills, Alyssa's writing skills will also improve and grow stronger.

How We Used Critical Thinking: Vocabulary 
I used Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book with my 10-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who will finish 4th grade this week. She works above her grade level. It was utilized as a Critical Thinking and Vocabulary supplement to her core Language Arts curriculum.

We progressed through the contents in sequential order beginning with Mystery 1. We wanted to attempt 1-3 mysteries a week, but we ended up spending approximately an hour and 15 minutes diligently working on the case. I adjusted how often we utilized the book based on the amount of time we spent working one mystery. We ended up completing 1-2 mysteries each week during the review period. Occasionally we would split the case work up over two days focusing on the mystery on Day 1 and complete the fill-in-the-blank page on Day 2.

Each case was based on 2-3 parameters that would help identify the culprit. We worked closely together for the first four mysteries. I gradually released control once she was familiar with the process of solving cases. Minimal help was given to mysteries after this guided practice.

First, I read the statements aloud as my daughter followed along. As we read the statements, I reminded Alyssa that all statements are considered to be true. I asked her if she had any questions about the case before I continued to read. 

Reading the 1st Mystery
She carefully reread the case pausing to look up unknown vocabulary words. I knew that my daughter would know some words, but that there would be a large number of words that she was not familiar with which means she'll expand her vocabulary knowledge. My daughter used a college dictionary, The New Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, to search for meanings while I searched for the definitions using an online dictionary. We chose this dictionary rather than an intermediate one, because we believed we'd have more luck finding the definitions of the more challenging and advanced words in it. Knowing the selected vocabulary words will most likely help improve SAT test scores in the future since the words were taken from the SAT's most difficult word list and from the top searched words of the Merriam Webster online dictionary.  

Then, we discussed the part of speech and she decided on a final definition after rereading the case sentences. I compared her definition to the synonym chart at the back of the book. She wrote the meanings near or above the word in the actual detective case.

Click on image to enlarge.
8th Crime Case: The Cogent Denigrator

Alyssa reread the passage one last time and replaced the vocabulary words with the synonym meanings. After researching the word meanings, analyzing the hidden clues, synthesizing evidence, and evaluating the information Alyssa finally solved the case and chose the correct suspect. There were times when she needed to use the process of elimination to narrow down the list of suspects. After sharing her opinion, we discussed her reasoning behind her choice.   

Our Thoughts
Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book is a fun and unique approach to expand your student's vocabulary knowledge. We both thoroughly enjoyed using this method to learn new vocabulary words. There were words that even I didn't know, but this simple method helped us remember the vocabulary meanings. 

What We Liked
  • Brightly Colored, Non-Distracting Pages
  • Variety of Interesting Mysteries
  • Challenging Detective Cases
  • Simple Directions
  • Decent Number of New Vocabulary Words Introduced
  • Detective Mystery Case Format
  • Developed Critical Thinking and Other Important Life Skills
  • Integrates Reading, Vocabulary, and Critical Thinking
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  • Separate Teacher Answer Key from the Student's Book
  • Provide a Blank Note-Taking Page for Vocabulary Definitions Adjacent to the Case 
  • Fill-in-the-Blank Word Bank Words Should Match the Word to be Written on Lines 
Alyssa's Thoughts
This was my favorite activity of the day! I loved that it challenged me with unfamiliar words. I really didn't know many of the vocabulary words that they used in the mysteries, but at the end of the case I knew a handful of new words that will help improve my writing later. Solving mysteries is fun! I felt like a real detective as I looked up words in my dictionary and tried to figure out the meaning of the statements. I'm glad that the fill-in-the-blank page included a word bank. I wish the words in the word bank matched exactly with the words that go on the blank lines. Some of the words added suffixes to the end which confused me at first.   

Recommendations and Results
I HIGHLY recommend the Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book to all homeschool families. Individuals implementing a traditional workbook approach in their homeschool may want to utilize this book. Private and public schools would benefit from using this resource in the classroom as well. I believe with consistent use the book could help students receive better grades and improve their test scores in the long run.

I can't wait for more books to be added to the series. I intend on using these books with my daughter during the holiday and summer breaks. It is an excellent way to develop critical thinking skills, expand her vocabulary, and empower her mind. My daughter's vocabulary skill set expanded with each case. I am impressed with the words introduced in the book. The words are challenging enough for young children at the lower end of the age range. The mystery case format engages and captivates the attention of the learner.
Critical Thinking Detective™ – Vocabulary Book 1

The company offers products for various subjects including but not limited to Math, Language Arts, Science, and History. I reviewed Language Smarts E several years ago if you want to take a peek at that full Language Arts curriculum resource.

This book ONLY costs $8.99. But, what if I told you that you could get 15% off ANY SIZE order and FREE shipping? Add the coupon code TOSCREW18 to your order. This code expires on 12/31/18.

Don't forget to sign-up for the FREE critical thinking puzzles! Choose the grade range: Preschool, K-2, 3-5, or 6-8. Materials will be delivered weekly to your inbox (retail value $75).

You can view the Table of Contents sample pages on the website for more scope and sequence information. The Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary book is available in two formats: Physical paperback book or as a digital e-book.

Note: Price subject to change without notice.

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Would you like to read more detailed reviews about the other amazing The Critical Thinking Co.™products the CREW reviewed? Check out reviews for the following products by visiting the Homeschool Review Crew blog:
Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}
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