Category Archives: Reviews

Why I love Math U See

I am often asked what Math curriculum I use.  When I answer, I’m usually asked “Why?”

Here is my response:

I’ve mentioned in a few posts that I love Math U See.  As a former Math teacher in public schools, I’ve seen and used many curriculum including Saxon.  I was actually trained by the Saxon company to teach Saxon in school.  I have many friends who love Saxon and I’ve seen it work extremely well for their children….so when I say that I hate prefer not use Saxon, it’s not because I believe it’s worthless or anything.

Please, please, please….if you have a math curriculum that works well for your children, KEEP USING IT.  Changing Math curriculum over and over is NOT a good idea.  That can create “holes” in their learning.  Find something and stick to it…unless you just hate it….then switch.

Mastery vs. Spiral:

Math U See is a “Mastery Based” method.  This means that a child doesn’t move on until they have mastered a skill.  Since Math builds one skill on the previous skill, this is important.  Another important aspect of Math U See that I love is that it’s also cumulative.  This means that while it’s teaching only one new skill at a time…and continuing with THAT skill until it’s mastered, it also reviews past skills.  Some “mastery based” programs leave this part out.  Kids then soon forget what was previously taught.

Saxon is a “Spiral Based” method.  So you Saxon people are saying, “Saxon has lots of cumulative review!”  Yes, it does.  The difference is that Saxon introduces a new concept, reviews previous concepts and then continues with another new concept…reviews….continues with another new concept….etc.  This might seem like it should make sense.  However, there is never a place that it stops to REQUIRE mastery of a new concept.  Even when there is a “test” or assessment, a child could miss every problem that contains a certain skill, and still pass the test.  Lets say that the child has learned several skills.  On the test there are many questions about multiplication, reading charts, word problems that involve adding, subtracting, and multiplication, roman numerals, and place value notation.  Many skills that have been taught/introduced up to that point.  A child could miss all the questions about roman numerals or all the questions about place value notation and still pass the test.  Has your child “mastered” all the skills necessary to go on? No.  Is it obvious that he has a “gap” in the skills learned so far? No, because he made a good grade on the test.

That being said, most parents (if they are closing watching and checking) can see when something new is just not making sense to their child, or when they keep missing problems that are all the same TYPE of problems.  They might stop and work one-on-one with their child on that new skill until they feel that they are “getting it” and then let them continue on with their lesson.  By doing that, they are turning their Saxon (spiral approach) into more of a mastery approach.  Does that make sense?

Before I get some of my best friends angry with me (they love Saxon), I will say that Saxon is proven to work.  It’s not some new funky fad.  It’s been around for a LONG time and has studies and data to back it up.  If you use Saxon you will know that you will be covering all the math skills your child needs.   Saxon is used in many public schools, especially in the Special Ed Dept.  They have studies showing how effective it is with students with learning disabilities in the area of math.  By the way, these studies always deal with students that have learning disabilities because if a program will show success in children that have a difficulty in that area, then it will work really well for those who are of average ability.

(you know I’m going to now say something about how Math U See does all that and more right?  I’ll just let their website do the talking)

If you would like information about how Math U See works in public schools and what their data is showing, you can click here: Math U See in Schools

If you would like to know more about how Math U See works in homeschool: Math U See – Homeschool

Don’t take my word for it:

Article reviewing Mastery vs. Spiral Math Curriculum compares Saxon, Math U See, Singapore, Teaching Textbooks, etc..

Article explaining the dangers of Spiral math programs

Okay, I will get off my math high-horse now.  Honestly, I haven’t said all this before just because I don’t want to offend anyone that might love Saxon (or some other math program).  The point is that it’s not important to me what you use.  I hope that homeschool parents take time to understand their choices, try out a few things, and then pick something that works for them.  As much as I love Math U See, I purchased Saxon 5/4 last year to try with my son.  He was just getting tired of the same curriculum and wanted a change.  Plus, I know that when he reaches the Challenge level of CC, they teach from Saxon (although you can still use any math curriculum at home).  I thought that if I was going to switch him over to Saxon, now would be the time.  I put aside my personal opinion of Saxon and we gave it a go.  What I noticed was that although it introduced many things that we hadn’t covered yet in Math U See, it was also NOT introducing some key things that we had already learned (see this is how “gaps” are created when switching programs).  At first my son liked it just because it was new.  I was impressed with the amount of drill they had.  After a week or so, we both hated it. (And I promise, I never told him my personal feelings about Saxon…I didn’t want to sway him).  We pressed on for another few months, then I gave up.  I ordered the next Math U See book and we went back.  Now he loves math again.

Well, for those who always ask why I love Math U See…I hope that this has helped.  If you hate Math U See, that’s okay too.  Use what works for your child and what keeps you from going insane! 🙂

This post is part of the “Not” Back to School Blog Hop
Not Back to School Blog Hop


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SpellQuizzer – a product review

I have been very behind on some reviews that I have been asked to do. So here is my first one.


The SpellQuizzer is an easy to use software program that will help you and your child through their spelling lists. The download was extremely simple and I was ready to use the program right away! Here is what I found while using the program.

When you are ready to use the program you simply click the “Create a Spelling List” button. It will ask you to name the list and then you can start entering the spelling words. You can enter the list by just typing them, or you can also use your voice!

If you don’t want to use the audio, you will be able to add a “reminder phrase” for each word. This could be the definition or a synonym for the word…something to remind them what word on the list they should spell. Then click “add word” and your word shows up in the list. You just keep doing this until all the words are entered.

If you want to use the audio, then you type the word in and then click “start recording” and speak into your microphone. I usually said the word, used it in a sentence, then said the word again. Then click “add word” and your word (with audio) shows up in the list.

When you are done adding all your words, you save your list and you’re done! You could go ahead and add many lists at one time if you wanted. This would be a big time saver later.

When your child wants to quiz themselves, they simply open the program and click on “Quiz Me” then they choose which list they want to use. As soon as they click on the right spelling list, a pop up window will appear and the audio starts right away. It will play your recording for the first word. There is a space for them to type the word in and then they click on “check spelling.” They get immediate feedback. They will see if they got it right, or if it’s wrong. If they misspelled the word, they see the correct way to spell it. Then it moves on to the next word.

If you didn’t use the audio, then when they choose a list and begin, it will have the reminder phrase at the top for them to read.

My son had a love-hate relationship with this program. He is a perfectionist, so he couldn’t stand getting a word wrong! He would quiz himself over and over until he got a 100%. This was great practice, but sometimes only came through frustration and tears…but that’s just his personality.

I noticed that sometimes he would get words wrong that he knew very well. This is because he would type so quickly and click the button that he wouldn’t look at what he typed first! But it is great typing practice too, so as long as he slowed down, he did well.

IDEA: I think that is could be used for vocabulary too! Record (or type) the definition of a word they are studying. They have to then type the right word in. If the vocabulary words are too hard for them to spell correctly from memory, give them a list of the vocabulary words (like a word bank) and let them use that to spell them with. Then you will be quizzing them on their knowledge of the word meanings without spelling getting in the way. As a result they will also be practicing spelling the words as they look and type each word!

I found the program fun and helpful. My son loved to be the one to enter in the new list. He liked using HIS OWN voice to record the words and a funny sentence. Once I showed him how to do it, he was able to enter his own lists and then quiz himself! I didn’t even have to take time to enter the words! I would recommend that you check to make sure that they spelled each word correctly on the master list and that their sentences made sense though. You can always edit a list that has already been entered.

What I didn’t like: At the end of a quiz, a pop up screen will show the student how they did. This is great for them, but once they click off that final screen with their score, you can never see their score again! I would like to be able to have a report of how they did. I’m not always right next to my son when he uses the program, so I don’t know how many he got right. Sometimes he doesn’t remember (unless it was 100%). Reports showing how a student is doing and their improvement on a list would be better. I also think that a report showing me which words he got wrong would be good. I would like to know what he’s missing so I can work on those words. Are they easy words that he’s rushing through? Are they words with a similar pattern that we need to review? I don’t know.

Overall, I would recommend the program as a fun (and independent) way for a student to review spelling and vocabulary. The price of $29.95 is a little high in my opinion, however, if you have more than one child that would be using this program over several years, then it might be worth the price. If the report feature was added, I’d definitely say it’s worth the price. But as it stands, it’s a fun and educational game for kids without offering the teacher/parent much feedback unless you are sitting with your child as they use the program!

SpellQuizzer offers a 100% money back guarantee, so I would definitely suggest buying the program and see how it helps your child at home! It will work with any spelling or vocabulary program out there!

If you’d like to purchase SpellQuizzer, just to their website:

You can even download a free trial version.

Hope you enjoy!

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Curriculum/Resources We Use (3rd Grade)

I love finding out what other people use for their homeschool curriculum.  I have a few friends that I always ask just because I trust their opinions and feel that they take the time to really find quality resources.  Most of what I use came directly from fellow homeschool moms!

So I will share what I use now along with my opinions:
For my 9-year-old son (3rd grade)

Math – Math U See Gamma

I LOVE this program.  I started using MUS when my son was K4 age and we started with Alpha.  We went through it very slowly since he was young which ended up being good and bad.  He learned everything that he was supposed to learn, but because we took so long with one level (2 years) we were just both sick of looking at it.  I decided to take a break and try something else.

First I wanted to try Horizons Math. I should’ve know that this wouldn’t work out.  Horizons claims to be a mastery approach program, but they are actually very SPIRAL! I hate spiral math programs…especially in the early years.  I bought just the 2nd half of the program of a used curriculum site to try it out.  I hated it.

Then I purchased 2nd grade math.  I was unimpressed.  I loved other things about K12, but the 2nd grade math was mostly just items learned in Alpha with the last 1/3 of book containing new content…adding/subtracting with regrouping.  There was also a VERY small section at the end with an intro to multiplication.  I will say that I liked that it was colorful and it included graphs and charts that my son hadn’t seen before….but in the end, I basically tested him through the book then taught the regrouping part (which would’ve been Math U See Beta).
MUS Gamma
After that, I went BACK to MUS!  We picked up with Gamma and we’re back on course.  I can now see the benefit of using the MUS program.  It starts out so slowly at first that it scares many people away.  They feel that their child is not being introduced to enough concepts.  But if you give that time with a solid foundation in the basics, it pays off!  My son is in Gamma which is multiplication (including large numbers) and he is just sailing through!  He knows his add/subtraction facts so that doesn’t slow him down and he has learned his basic multiplication facts through our Classical Conversations curriculum along with the skip counting at the beginning of Gamma that concentrates on that…so now that he is doing 3 digit x 3 digit with regrouping…he gets it! No more switching for us!

Grammar – Growing with Grammar (level 3)

Growing With Grammar

LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!  I good friend told me about this program.  It was cheap, easy and requires no prep time!  If your child is a good reader, then he can even do this pretty much on his own!  It teaches grammar in step-by-step format.  Each lesson has the new teaching (again…one step at a time) with practice, then it reviews previous lessons.  It also teaches sentence diagramming which was important to me.  It comes with a “text book” and a “workbook”.  The text book is half-page size and spiral bound.  This has the lesson that you read with examples that explain the concept.  The workbook is what the kids write in.  Each lesson has a workbook page (2-sided) with a section on the new content and then 3  or 4 sections on review material.  It can be done in about 10-15 min for a quick worker or maybe 20 min for a student that takes their time.

Spelling – All About Spelling – Level 3

If you have read my blog, then you know how much I love this program.  I have posts on my blog totally dedicated to AAS program!  I will just say here that again…this is awesome.  My son was behind in reading and many of the phonics programs were geared toward younger kids.  I needed something that would continue phonics instruction but not be babyish!  AAS was it.  It’s a spelling program, but it’s phonics based, so it is a wonderful reading program as well.

The lessons are called “Steps” because you don’t just go through lesson by lesson….moving on each day.  You start on Step 1 and stay with Step 1 until they have mastered the spelling skill/key as well as mastery on their spelling words and dictation sentences.  It is very flexible in how you break up the Step into daily lessons…although some will not like this aspect.  If you want a lesson plan that tells you exactly what to do minute by minute for spelling each day, then you will not like this layout.  But, I would still encourage you to try this out!  It is totally worth it.  There is an online community that helps give you ideas on how to schedule spelling for the week as well as other tips and suggestions.

The program comes with one book (this is YOUR book…there is no student book!), index cards, and any relevant charts or word reading sheets.  You can also purchase the magnet letter tiles separately (do it… I tried without this and although it can be done, I saw a huge difference when I started using the tiles!).  You will only need to purchase an index card box and have pencil and paper on hand. I suggest the this box. It provides all the room you need so it’s not squished in too tight…plus it allows room for the dividers without smashing them!

Sterilite Index Box

Best Box for AAS Cards!

The teacher’s book will tell you what you will be covering in each step and what to say.  So, although it doesn’t have detailed lesson plans, it does have a scripted lesson!  You read through the Step (lesson) as it is written in the book.  It will tell you when to bring out the index cards (which have the spelling words, the key cards, phonogram cards, and sound cards) and when to use the tiles.  At the end of each lesson there is a list of spelling words and “more” or Challenge words (not all lessons have challenge words).  There is also a list of sentences that are used for dictation.  They reinforce the skills previous and currently taught in the book.   It also comes with a handy chart to mark off each step as you go and a certificate of completion.

How I Do It:  I start a new step by just reading through the first few sections.  There is usually a skill reinforcement section where you really analyze the spelling of a word.  Then there is the new stuff for that lesson.  I read through the New Teaching section.  If it’s short then we will complete all of that in about 15 min.  If it’s longer then I sometimes break up the New Teaching section and just introduce part of it one day and part another day. I finish the first day with a few of the dictation sentences on paper. Don’t skip this part.  It truly makes a difference.  This where you see if they can take what they learn in isolation and apply it to regular writing!  The next day in spelling, I review what we learned by QUICKLY restating what was in the New Teaching section and then continue forward.  If there was more New Teaching, then I continue that section. If not, then I introduce the spelling words and we  practice with the letter tiles on the magnet  board.  We finish that day with a few more dictation sentences on paper.

I continue on like this each day until I see that he “gets” it and then I do a test.  The test certainly doesn’t have to be formal, but I like to have him do it on paper.  He has to spell the 10 words plus 2-3 dictation sentences.  If he misses a few, but seems to get most of it right I usually move on, but keep those words in our “Review” section of our card box.  This is then reviewed with the next set of words.  If however, I feel that he didn’t get enough correct, we would just stay with that lesson/step a little longer.

Phonics/Spelling – Explode the Code – Level 5

Explode the Code

We started with Explode the Code series pretty early on in our homeschooling, but then I put it aside for a time.  I wish I hadn’t.  It is a great program that easily and without difficulty, introduces key spelling, phonics/decoding skills as well as some vocabulary. It’s a workbook that the student writes in.  There is a teacher’s guide that I hear is very good, however I don’t have it.  I only used it for the K levels.  I have found that Level 5 goes wonderfully with AAS Level 3.  Last year we did Level 2 in AAS and level 4 in Explode the Code and they mirrored each other.  So for me, Explode the Code offers an independent way for my son to get reinforcement in his spelling concepts. I usually just have him do 3 pages a day.  When he gets to the end of a section, I give him a test that tests both spelling of the words in that section as well as some vocabulary by doing a fill in the blank.  I created the tests myself and will post them here soon.

Literature – Various Books

Okay, so I’ve totally slacked in this department.  I have just recently picked this subject back up. I’m starting out right now just by reading great books to and with my kids.  My son has made wonderful improvements in his reading and actually reads all the time, but for literature, I still wanted to read to him.  We all enjoy story time.  We have read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Which, and The Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew.  We are now reading the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It’s been fun learning about how families survived in those times! I’m always amazed at the pioneer spirit!  I currently don’t do any formal program for literature or use any literature guides.  We just enjoy the books and discuss them as we go.  I bring up new words as I read them and also find places on the map so they can visualize the story better.  No quizzes or tests…just learning to enjoy a great book.

History & Science – Classical Conversations

We are part of Classical Conversations which is a wonderful Classical Education homeschool program (read more on my other posts).  Our History and Science pulls from what we are doing with CC each week.  We meet once a week with CC and each week the kids are introduced to a new History and Science sentence/fact.  At home each week we expound on that fact by reading from encyclopedias, library books (or books I have on hand), internet, DVDs, and biographies.

I do History 2 days a week and Science 2 days.  We spend one day at CC to that makes up our week.  The first day for History and Science I do the reading from one of my sources (or sometimes a great DVD from the library) We spend about 20 min. doing this.  We discuss what happened and how it relates to our CC History or Science fact.  On the second day for each one, we read a little more from a different source and then I have my son draw and/or write about what we learned in his own words. This goes into his notebook.

We are always reviewing our History and Science fact from CC so they have that memorized by the end of the week.  We also review previous week’s facts and memory work so that they stay fresh in their minds!

Some of my favorite resources are:

Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History

Story of the World

Mystery of History

Usborne – What’s Science All About

Usborne – Internet Linked First Encyclopedia Series

Apologia – Young Explorer Series

Geography and Timeline – Classical Conversations

At CC each week, we introduce several new places on the map.  Right now we are concentrating on Europe which ties into our History this year.  At home, we continue to review those new places by locating them and coloring them in on our maps.  We also draw/trace the maps.  At least once a week we will also review some of the places from previous weeks to keep them memorized.

Our timeline is also introduced each week at CC.  We introduce 8 new cards per week using the Veritas Press timeline cards.  CC incorporates the Bible History cards with the World History cards in chronological order.  It creates a wonderful outline of history from creation to modern times that really helps kids in all subjects! At home, we practice the cards using hand motions and the cards themselves.  Sometimes we play games with the cards too.

I am still figuring out vocabulary and Latin.  We do some Latin at CC each week, but I have not formally started that at home.  I’m thinking of either Latin’s Not So Tough or Prima Latina. Vocabulary has been another sore subject for me.  I haven’t found anything that I really love and have just been using different things here and there.

So if you have any great vocabulary or Latin ideas, let me know.


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Classical Conversations – Our Year 1 Journey Has Ended

In August we started on a new addition to our “homeschool story”. We became part of Classical Conversations! Actually, I became the director and opened a CC in my area. It started with a very difficult beginning (I have to say). Nothing to do with CC, just with logistics trying to get our location started! We had trouble finding a church that was available to use. Then because that took me so long, I didn’t have much time to get families to join! I also needed some experienced home school moms to be “tutors” (class teachers). I found a great group of friends and we all did the training together. Then I lost each one of them due to different reasons. Some went to another group that was closer to their homes (who can blame them). Anyway, it looked like I was starting up with just me and my kids and I was about to throw in the towel…when along came my first family! Then another one, then another! God truly brought me wonderful women and children to join along side me in this new endeavor!

Classical Conversations (CC) is a WONDERFUL home schooling group that meets once a week to model & introduce classical learning methods using 6 main subjects. Each week the kids are introduced to memory work (and let me say, they memorize their work by the time they leave! It takes us moms WAY longer) in Science, History, Geography, Latin, English, Math. We also do a hands-on Science lesson and a hands-on Fine Arts lesson! It is so much fun. I know…you’re asking how memory work can be fun right? Well, it is! CC has given so many tools, examples, and resources, that you can have a blast with the kids! We sing, play games, chant, explore, draw, color, etc…

My kids have walked away from this year with SUCH a huge amount of learning!

We take each week’s memory work and then form lessons around that at home to create our daily work. For example, one week the memory sentence for History was about the Kush (they mined gold along the Nile River). The history sentence they memorize tells them the time period and more. We sing it to a song. Anyway, that week at home for history, we read Story of the World about the Kush. We also did some map work and put up the Kush on our timeline.

A Science fact learned one week was about types of clouds. So at home, I printed off pictures of the types of clouds. We made hand motions for the different types and practiced them. Then we looked outside each day (and now anytime I think of it) and try to identify the types of clouds we see! I have a weather book that I had my son read through too.

The list goes on and on. All I can say is WOW! Without the accountability and hard work that CC has provided, I would’ve never been able to instill this type of long-term learning this year!

Our last week was March 29th and then on Good Friday, we had our Family Night! The kids all got to share what they had learned as a group and as individuals! It was amazing!

If anyone is interested: It’s Nationwide!! Check out their schedule because they probably have a parent practicum near you! These are free to any homeschooling parents (or those interested in homeschooling) even if you have no desire to join CC!

So I say: Thank You CC!! And I look forward to another year!

Everyone with their certificates

Just having fun with friends!

Acting out parts of the Ocean Floor!

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Educational Games

Our Favorite Computer Games!!

Click for Info

This game gets 5 stars from us! This game is awesome!!! The idea is that you have to find the 5 rings that will open this chamber in a pyramid to help the archeologist who is trapped in there. You travel all over Egypt in search of clues and items that you need to get more clues. You earn/find scarabs (which is used like money) along the way to help you buy things you need. It’s tricky and requires lots of thought (which I love) but my 5-6 year old son has figured it out…. best part….EACH time you play it, it’s different! He thought once he beat the game that the next time he played he’d just go straight to where all the rings were and get them right away…but he was wrong! The clues were different….things weren’t where they were…it’s a new game each time! Plus he learned lots of Egyptian vocabulary and map skills not to mention all the critical thinking that was going on!


Click for info

Gary Gadget’s Building Cars: He JUST got this game for his birthday a few weeks ago. Like the game above, it’s a critical thinking game. The idea being that you use parts from the junk yard to build a car…but your car has to have all the necessary parts (engine, battery, gas tank, gear box, etc) you can also add silly and funny things. Then you go out into the town and drive around…but you might have to go through the mud road to get to the party that you just got invited to….and if you don’t have the right tires you won’t be able to cross the mud…so you have to go back home and rebuilt…or if you have to save the cat in the tree you have to have a ladder on the back of your car. As you do favors for others they reward you with extra parts! It took us forever to figure out how to get the horn on our car so he could honk at the cows in our way!! He loves it!!

More added soon

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