Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heads Up!...Special products for special kids

Helping a child with a learning disability through educational milestones can be extremely rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Heads Up!, a Columbus, Oh, based company owned by Melinda Boring, MA-CCC/SLP, offers customers expert information and products designed to assist struggling learners with their academic pursuits. According to Boring the goal of Heads Up! is "to provide materials and information for homeschooling families, occupational therapists, speech therapists, teachers, and specialists who work with children who have developmental delays, learning disabilities, autism and other special needs......Adapting or modifying curriculum or the learning environment can make a big difference to struggling learners."

Heads Up! sent me samples of their colored Frames in two sizes and colored Readers to review along with a copy of their 31 page catalog filled with resources. Heads Up! Frames are available in six different colors in both 4" x 9" rectangles and 4" x 4 1/2" squares. They are designed to help distractible readers stay focused. The color and size of the frames aid readers with maintaining focus enabling improved reading comprehension. Frames large and small retail for only $1.00!

The Heads Up! Reader consists of a highlighted strip of color between two strips of grey. The overall size of the reader is 8 1/2" x 1 1/4". Students can read a line of text by placing the highlighted portion on top or by using the straight edge to ensure proper tracking. Readers also retail for the low price of $1.00 a piece, making them an extremely affordable learning tool.

According to Boring, "The use of color overlays has long been established as an effective low-tech tool to aid in focusing the student's attention to written material...... Some students find that brighter colors such as yellow or orange help them to see the print more clearly. Others find that the darker hues such as blue seem easier for them to use, especially students who are light sensitive and may be bothered by the light glare on a glossy page."

None of my children to date have demonstrated distractibility or tracking issues so we were unable to benefit from these wonderful products in our home. I do have many friends in my homeschool network whose children suffer from ADD, ADHD and other learning struggles. I am acutely aware of the level of patience, dedication and tremendous desire these parents demonstrate especially when seeking appropriate avenues to help their child learn. I am thrilled I can now recommend Heads Up! It truly is a valuable resource of expert advice and affordable products for families with special kids.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

High School Biology in Your Home

Not many things bring about as much dread in the hearts of young homeschool parents than the thought of being responsible for teaching high school level science courses. I remember clearly having those very same concerns, back in the day, when my oldest child was still in elementary school. As 7th grade approached I attended a homeschool conference and sat in on a convention workshop which laid most of my fears to rest. I discovered through the wisdom of the presenter that I truly would not be responsible for pouring scientific knowledge into my child, but rather a good curriculum should guide them with me as their mentor.

Understanding the concept of mentor rather than all knowing teacher is easy when you take a look at Highschool Biology In Your Home. In fact, according to author Bridget Ardoin, “That's the reason I wrote these curriculums designed for the homeschooling family. They are designed to be academically challenging for the student and parent-friendly for YOU!” Ardoin also carries High School Physical Science in the Home and High School Chemistry in the Home on her website,

Ardoin’s wealth of experience stems from a degree in microbiology obtained from Louisiana State University, being the mother of 5 and a homeschool parent for 12+ years and teaching high school level science courses in private schools and tutorially since the early 1990’s. Ardoin designed her high school level Biology course to teach students by guiding them through a process of research, dissection experimentation and discovery. It is not a typical textbook, but rather a student manual filled with questions ready to be answered. A dissecting manual is also included with microscope work or dissections to be completed on a weekly basis that support the topic being studied.

When I first looked at the text it reminded me of a blank textbook waiting for details to be filled in by the student. The student manual is divided into two semesters of work with 11 weeks of topics in the first semester and 13 weeks of topics in the second semester. An additional week is provided at the end of each semester for comprehensive study for a mid-term and final exam. Ardoin has provided a great deal of flexibility with her curriculum by only including 24 weeks of topics, allowing students the opportunity to focus on a particular topic for longer than one week if desired.

Evaluation of the weekly essay questions and experiments is easily completed by utilizing the teacher’s manual that includes an answer for all questions and samples of lab dissection descriptions and drawings for the necessary lab reports. Students are encouraged to work independently four days a week then meet with Mom or Dad for discussion on the fifth day. Keeping this sort of schedule is a great way for high school students to learn time management with their studies. Weekly or bi-weekly quizzes are included for additional evaluation along with one mid-term and a second semester final exam. Samples of the student and teacher manuals including quizzes can be viewed here

High School Biology Science in Your Home retails at $79.99 for both the teacher and student manuals. Homeschool parents may choose to purchase all necessary lab supplies including prepared slides and dissecting pan and specimens for an additional $170.00. Once all supplies are in the home, biology study will come to life through research, discovery, experimenting and reporting.

All of my highschool aged students have completed their courses in Biology so our family was not able to test drive this unique curriculum per se. When my children were younger we spent several years making good use of Konos unit studies. I was pleased to note that an optional dissection activity in week three of High School Biology in Your Home was attributed to Konos and required the student to dissect a chicken leg thigh. My experience with Konos and my children is unprecedented. The messy, labor intensive, research based unit studies that consumed us during those early years provided wonderful memory anchors for information still retained 10+ years later. We didn’t just learn about the Revolutionary War, Russia or the Olympics, we lived those topics. In comparison, other traditional routes of education in the form of worksheets or standard textbook curricula left only a minor long-term impression on all of us and most of the information has long since been lost. High School Biology in the Home is like Konos science for high school aged kids. It will provide an experience for them, not just information. Through the research, hands-on dissections, discussion and finally testing, students will not just study biology, but live it.

Math Tutor DVD

When I was younger I was extremely math phobic. I remember being in 1st or 2nd grade completely perplexed by the concept of addition. I can remember being asked to add ducks printed on a worksheet and wondering how on earth ducks could combine to create a new number. Mathematics was a mystery to me and unfortunately it would be years until I had a teacher who could help me decode it.

Math phobic students like me can breathe a deep sigh of relief when they seek instruction through Math Tutor DVD. Math Tutor DVD offers slow and steady explanations for mathematical concepts guaranteed to reach even the most perplexed student. All courses from basic math to advanced calculus run 6-8 hours in length and are divided within the DVD topically. DVD’s range in price from $26.99 to $31.99 making this one of the most affordable tutors you will ever find for mathematics study.

Customers with a Facebook account will want to become a “fan” as Math Tutor DVD offers a $10.00 coupon to all Facebook fans. In addition to coupons, the company offers an affiliate program, DVD bundle pricing, and the opportunity to win a complete set of all the Math Tutor DVD products directly from the website. If that weren’t enough Math Tutor DVD offers a 100% money back guarantee for all of their products.

My family viewed the Basic Math Word Problems and Algebra 2 DVD’s. Ironically, despite my “issues” as a math student, my children have all thrived with mathematics study. They thought the videos moved too slowly and were boring and repetitive. In their opinion, the productions lacked artistic panache. Viewing the videos with a different perspective, I thought the light hearted, slow pace and gentle guided instruction would have been just the trick for me as a struggling math student.

Math Tutor DVD products are produced, narrated and taught by Jason Gibson. Mr. Gibson’s educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Physics. He has worked for Texas Instruments and most recently NASA. He admits, however, that all the education in the world wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t a good instructor for the students.

“I personally get a thrill out of making seemingly complex topics suddenly easy to students. I have found over the years that the easy way to do this is to learn by working example problems, beginning with the easier ones and gradually progressing to the harder ones”, states Gibson on the Math Tutor DVD website.

All products offered by Math Tutor can be sampled at Customers can read and listen to student and teacher testimonials and will find it interesting to note that Math Tutor DVD has won numerous awards including the Family Review Center Gold Award and a 2008 seal of approval. If one of your math problems is helping your struggling math student, Math Tutor DVD has the perfect, affordable solution.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Story Writing Contest from The Old Schoolhouse!

Exciting News from TOS! Attention writers!Grab your pencils and get those creative juices flowing!The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is hosting our second Storytime Writing Contest!

We have two creative fiction categories: adults (16 and up 2,500 words or less) and children (15 and below 1,500 words or less).

Deadline to enter is March 16, 2009. $7.95 fee per entry.

Grand prize winners in both the adult and child categories will receive prize packages valued at over $1,000, publication in the Summer 2009 issue of TOS, and publication in our Storytime 2009 Compilation E-Book. Eleven Honorable Mentions from each category will also be included in the E-Book in addition to receiving gifts from top homeschool companies.

We look forward to reading your entries!For a detailed list of prizes, official contest rules, to meet our judges, and to upload your story, please visit:

Need help teaching writing? We have over 200 writing products in the Schoolhouse Store!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bible Story Songs

I adore the idea of learning new concepts set to music. I have witnessed the magic of music education within my own family on many occasions. My oldest daughter, for example, could not speak at two years of age due to a mild learning disability. She could, however, sing all three verses of “Silent Night”.

Language and artistic ventures are processed by different hemispheres of the brain. I believe music acts as a bridge to open up communication in ways that traditional educational methods fail. For my family, the melody of a song acts as an anchor for information contained in the logical, lyrical portion of the music. I am continually amazed at the volume of “poetry” my teens can recite as they sing lyric upon lyric of all their favorite music.

Bible Story Songs Inc., has taken full advantage of the power of music. Their musical CD’s provide children an opportunity to memorize scripture, Bible stories, and understand Biblical truths through the joy of song. According to the company’s website, “Bible Story Songs is a formula that works!...... We pray that we would be able to make professional recordings of all of these songs, that they would be sung by many families in cars and living rooms all over this earth, and that they would be a blessing to all who sing them.”

My family chose the car to test the “blessing” threshold of Bible Story Songs,” The Bible: Let’s Sing About The Book We Love!” Present on the car ride were my 17, 11 and 7 year old daughters and my 14 and 4 year old sons. The CD made up of 32 individual tracks ran for about one hour and was filled with songs designed to aid in scripture memory, and two different tracks to help listeners learn the books of the Bible.

I was pleased by the quality musicianship of the performers and the meaty content of the lyrics. I especially noted that unlike many children’s CD’s I have listened to in the past with children performing, “The Bible” had young vocalists delightfully in tune with excellent diction. This quality ensured that I would genuinely enjoy putting the CD on again and again upon requests.

When asked for a kid’s opinion my children were happy to oblige. Jonah, age 14 said, “It was okay. The songs weren’t really very creative, but I think you could learn them easily. I think the CD is geared to little kids definitely.”

“It was very good!”, said Aidan, age 4. “I like the “understand” song—(Track 2 Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand…”) because it makes me happy. I just liked it!”

“I really liked “Lord of Chihuahua”, added Sierra age 7. (Caution: make use of the lyric sheet included for 7 year olds. I had to explain to Sierra that Chihuahua was really Jehovah.) “I really liked how the kids sang and clapped. I would listen to it over and over and over and over (a thousand overs) again!”

Sammi age 17 provided a teen’s perspective. “I think the CD is kid-friendly and up beat music. I would have enjoyed this a lot when I was younger because it is very appealing. I think it really helps increase Bible knowledge. It is easier than trying to memorize scripture in other ways especially for little kids.”

Micah age 11 offered up the final word with her opinion. “I guess it’s a good idea to put the books of the Bible or Bible verses to music so kids can remember them easier. The kids on the CD sound pretty good especially when they sing in a round. The CD doesn’t really appeal to me much now, but I think I would have really liked it when I was say, six years old”.

Bible Story Songs offers 5 other Bible related CD’s on their website along with sheet music, puzzle pages books, and color and sing songbooks. All CD’s are reasonably priced at $9.99. In addition, samples of the songs offered on each of the CD’s can be heard at the website.

The CD’s are a quality investment especially for families of younger aged children. Bible Story Songs provide delightful entertainment with a Biblical focus. Their simple, wholesome, original and borrowed melodies filled with scripture could turn your next car ride into a worship filled experience.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rocket Phonics

Rocket Phonics, designed by Stephen Guffanti, M.D. and Maureen Guffanti has everything a parent and child could want in a phonics program. Maureen created the program with the help of her husband when their daughter wanted desperately to learn to read at a very young age, but failed to thrive with traditional teaching methods. As Maureen designed the curriculum, her husband approached the project from a scientific view point.

“He had UCLA do a study with homeschool children using Rocket Phonics. The 2001 UCLA study found the students using Rocket Phonics learned nearly 4 months of reading skill for every month they used the program, while the students in the control group learned just under one month of reading skill for every month they used their programs!”said Maureen.

When I first read the description for Rocket Phonics, “a multi-sensory, game-based” curriculum my interest was perked. I have a four year old son whom I recently began describing to friends as “Curious George”. Aidan is cute, but oh so curious! There are many days that like the man with the yellow hat I am at a loss to try to keep up with his inquisitive and very active antics. Rocket Phonics, if not by name alone, promises excitement, adventure and energy in every lesson. Aidan was thrilled at the prospect of “school” related to rocket ships and space travel.

We began using Rocket Phonics as soon as it arrived to our home in a big white box full of possibilities. The curriculum consists of two spiral bound texts designed to be used by the teacher and student simultaneously (Volume one-205 pages, and Volume two-450 pages), a pocket folder of supplemental pages, a deck of 72 Play & Read playing cards, 1 Rocket peeker, 1 bag of bingo chips (red), two treasure hunts complete with prizes and bonus e-mail gifts for $160.00. Aidan eagerly participated in his first reading lesson as we looked at all the playing cards, reviewed their sounds and then followed up with a Bingo game designed to encourage review of phonetic sounds of specific letters.

The first day of use I had Sierra, my seven year old daughter, sit in with Aidan during the lesson even though she is currently reading at a solid first grade level. Aidan is very much a non-reader and I thought having his big sister present might take just a bit of the pressure off. I was also curious to see if Sierra would find the games interesting and engaging. I am happy to report she loved them. Despite being over shadowed by Sierra’s skills, a bad case of cabin fever and a teacher that was still trying to understand the ins and outs of a new curriculum, Aidan loved his first phonics lesson. After spending 30 minutes learning letter sounds in a variety of game based activities he asked me, “Can we play this again?”

Aidan and I have attempted a phonics lesson about three times a week. I purposely have not pressed daily lessons at this point because he is still so young. I want him to continue to enjoy the learning process; seeing it as a treat and never a chore. Our Rocket Phonics lessons usually last about 15-20 minutes in length. To date we have played phonics bingo and reviewed sounds with the play and learn cards which have the letter listed below a photograph or drawing of an object which begins with the phonetic sound during each lesson. Additionally, to keep interest peeked we have played an action game where Aidan completed an action related to the photo on the play and learn card, (ie. hop like a kangaroo for letter K) and another game requiring us to create the shape of letters with our bodies. All games have been a hit and according to Aidan are “a lot of fun!”

According to the Rocket Phonics website this unique curriculum is “Perfect for children of all learning styles, even very active kids. Rocket Phonics readers go from non-reader to 5th grade reading in two years or less”.

I have no idea what learning style Aidan is at this point of his life other than “little boy”, which makes Rocket Phonics an ideal choice for our homeschool. Rocket Phonics activities and games appeal to all types of learning styles; kids who are visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. Since I am unsure of Aidan’s strongest learning style the various activities provided through the Rocket Phonics curriculum will provide him with an opportunity to learn phonics in the way he learns best. After one month of use Aidan can consistently recognize 7 of the 9 basic phonetic sounds taught in the first lesson of the curriculum. His interest is high and he and I continue to enjoy every lesson.

This is the most child-friendly phonics curriculum I have ever laid eyes on and I am anxious to witness its success with Aidan. We will write another review after six months of use and then again at the conclusion of the program. Stay tuned for future updates and reading progress with Rocket Phonics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Homeschooling ABC's

Homeschooling can be a wonderful faith-filled adventure. Sometimes, however, faith runs thin and even nerves of steel can not possibly sustain the homeschool teacher as questions turn to doubts which turn to fear. If you have homeschooled you understand exactly what I have described. If you are considering home education you are probably dreadfully reading this thinking, “Oh no!”

Now imagine a world where homeschool teachers can find support, encouragement and on the job training with the click of a mouse. Imagine an on-line course to help you navigate the uncharted waters of home education delivered to your email inbox on a weekly basis for six months. Imagine having access to educational experts and seasoned homeschool mentors at all hours of the day or night offering answers to every one of your homeschooling questions.

Terri Johnson, co-owner with husband Toby of, publisher of history and geography curricula for the homeschool market, has developed Homeschooling ABC’s an on-line course that will empower the new and seasoned homeschooler from the first lesson onward.

Available at, Homeschooling ABC’s is a treasure trove of information in the form of 26 weekly lessons delivered faithfully to your e-mail inbox. Each lesson focuses on different aspects of home education and is filled with resources, encouragement, information to broaden teacher knowledge base and endless amounts of practical advice. Interested customers can receive 5 free lessons to sample Homeschooling ABC’s, but the course costs only $60.00 payable in $10 increments monthly. In addition, e-books and over $250.00 worth of curriculum from homeschool vendors are provided to participants free of charge throughout the six months of classes. Imagine attending your favorite homeschool convention workshop every week for twenty-six weeks and now you have a full picture of the depth of value Homeschoolingabc’s offers the homeschool teacher.

Homeschooling ABC’s begins on a high energy note with lesson A providing practical step by step instructions for diving into home education for the first time. Johnson calls this her “Jumpstart method” and offers up encouragement and sage advice along with practical tips for daily study with children in the home. I have homeschooled for 14 years and was still delighted and motivated by this inspiring lesson. I equated it in my mind to having a homeschool mentor teacher available at the click of a mouse. Fantastic!

Each brief lesson ends with an assignment for the homeschool teacher designed to continue guiding and directing throughout the week until the next lesson arrives. Lesson C, for example, filled with tips and advice for scheduling and organization directs the teacher to pick a date on their calendar for a planning get away. Johnson recommends finding a weekend that you and your spouse can spend together stating, “this could be as luxurious as an inn at the coast or a couple of planned afternoons at the local library without children”.

I can not find enough superlatives to offer in description of Homeschooling ABC’s. I found myself inspired and motivated by the quality and quantity of information presented through this course in manageable bite-sized chunks. Johnson has thoughtfully designed her course to answer every question imaginable, yet not overwhelm even the most timid of new teachers. I have been a support group leader for many years and spent quite a few hours counseling new homeschoolers as they nervously begin their first years of teaching their children at home. I only wish HomeschoolingABC’s had been available earlier as it truly provides all the answers to the multitude of questions that plague everyone beginning their journey into home education.

Monday, February 9, 2009

BiLingual Books: Italian in 10 minutes a Day!

My favorite Italian restaurant talks to me. It really does. As I dutifully head into the restrooms with my little kids before dining I am usually greeted with, “Salve Gina!” Of course, since my name is Regenia I always take this personally and reply “Salve bagno!”The adorable greeting is part of an educational language tape that plays in the restaurant’s bathrooms. Yes! My favorite Italian restaurant values education as highly as I do. When you visit you are immersed in the culture of Italy even while washing your hands before eating.

Italian in 10 Minutes a Day provides a rich cultural audio experience as engaging as a talking bathroom in an Italian restaurant. The Italian program is one of 16 different introductory language courses offered by Bilingual Books. Extremely simple to implement, interesting, educational, and filled with a light-hearted atmosphere, Italian in 10 minutes a Day will encourage a desire within your students to acquire a second language.

Their slogan, “In just “10 mins a day” you can be making new friends” is a perfect description of the philosophy of this program. The lessons are brief, 7-20 mins in length; filled with practical conversational language designed to enable persons planning a trip to Italy the ability to speak in Italian. My children and I investigated the first six lessons over the course of several weeks and learned L’Alfabeto (the alphabet), Key Question Words (ie. Dove (where), Che (what), Chi (who), Quando (when)…), parole (words) for the home, parole for local travel, numeri (numbers), I Colori (colors), and a multitude of other useful parole including cioccolato (chocolate), which according to our instructor, “is a very important word in any language”.

The learning approach is audio based; however a helpful workbook is available to accompany the audio lessons. I found the visual reinforcement of vocabulary extremely important for my old brain as I tried to learn. My only criticism of the workbook was that some of the “parole” were not listed on the referenced workbook pages. All language spoken on the CD is done by native speaking Italians; a wonderful aspect of the program if you desire to speak the language accurately. However, my old American English speaking brain many times did not catch the subtleties of the pronunciations without the written word before my eyes for reinforcement. Younger ears attached to fresher minds might not have the same issue as my younger children seemed to easily parrot back the language as directed by our instructor.

Keith Johnson, Educational Sales Director for Bilingual Books, states that the program is recommended for students at a 5th grade reading level and up. I agree that being able to read increases success with the program, but language enthusiasts could easily utilize the program with younger students. I test marketed the program with kids aged 4, 7, 11, 14, and 17 and they all enjoyed the experience at their appropriate level. Studying the language as a family gave us greater opportunity to practice words and phrases throughout the week by talking with each other in Italian.

A complete package of six audio CD’s, reproducible study aids on CD Rom, and written text with flash cards, worksheets, and “sticky labels” for labeling vocabulary throughout your home is available on the Bilingual books website for $59.95. Additional work texts are $19.95, CD Rom only for $14.95, audio CD wallet for $42.95 and a very basic Italian language map with over 1,000 Italian phrases for $7.95. For a minimal investment of $59.95 your family can easily have everything they need for a one year course of conversational Italian. *Currently, customers can take advantage of a Traveler's special for the Italian and French programs. The worktext, CD Rom and language map are offered in a package priced at $29.95.

Although the program prides itself on the “10 minutes a day” motto, students will want to spend several days on each lesson for mastery of the language. The key for success in my opinion is small doses of exposure often. I love Italian in 10 minutes a day because it easily fits into my personal educational philosophy for language acquisition.

Italian in 10 minutes a Day is a wonderful asset to any foreign language study. The price, flexibility of the program and gentle instruction make it a joy for students of any age. My children and I looked forward to our lessons each day we used the curriculum. The voices of the male and female native speakers, occassional traditional italian music and constant encouragement from the narrator brought Italian culture and language to life for us. At the conclusion of our sixth lesson we were told to "congratulate ourselves, take a deep breath and realize we were one step closer to having a wonderful time on our visit to Italy." I think I can see Rome already!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Write Shop Story Builders

“Once upon a time the hysterical peacock noticed a forest fire while he was riding a rollercoaster at the amusement park.—Aidan, age 4

“A disobedient seahorse that lived in a toybox never listened to his mother, Raggedy Ann. God was displeased by the little seahorse’s disobedience so he caused his lips to grow larger then smaller every time he disobeyed his mother”. ---Micah, age 11

“An obnoxious ant was captured by a tribe of warrior ants and placed in a cage. He escaped and continued to spy on the enemy ants.”---Jonah, age 14

The beginning sentences of the stories above may not be Pulitzer worthy, but they are certainly creative. All were written through the help of Write Shop’s newest product, World of Animals Story Builders. Whether used as a game, creative writing assignment, or brainstorming session, these handy little cards promise hours and hours of language arts fun.

The foundation of the Write Shop writing curriculum was laid in 1997, when two homeschool moms, Kim Kautzer and Debra Oldar agreed to teach a co-op writing class to a small group of homeschoolers. Kautzer states on the Write Shop website, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And for Debbie and me, necessity came in the shape of two twelve-year-old boys who simply could not write.”

The duo intended to utilize one or two writing curriculums already on the market, but through their summer planning sessions developed their own. The writing class was such a success that parents convinced them to market their curriculum and a business was born. Story Builders is the latest addition to the Write Shop curriculum family.

Story Builders sold in thematic e-books for $7.95 can easily add a dimension to anyone’s creative writing curriculum. Customers can choose from World of Animals Story Builders, World of People Story Builders, World of Sports Story Builders, and Story Builders: Christmas mini builder. The books consist of instruction pages and two deck options of cards; one deck designed to be printed on colored paper and one in color on white paper. Parents will want to purchase a ream of cardstock copy paper and have a fresh supply of ink in their printer after downloading the e-book to their home computer. It took me a half hour to print my white cardstock cards with colored ink and about an hour or so to cut them all apart. Once the initial set-up work is complete, Story Builders can be stored in small Ziploc bags, card files, small boxes, etc., allowing for easy implementation at a moment’s notice.

The decks of cards are divided into four categories; the four basic elements to good story telling. Forty-seven cards each of “Character”, “Setting”, “Character Trait”, and “Plot” cards as well as blank cards for inspired writers make Story Builders an endless supply of possibilities and creativity. Aidan’s story, for example, used the cards “peacock”, “amusement park”, “hysterical” and “notices a forest fire”. The job of the person that draws the cards is to find a way to combine them into a story.

There are many ways to utilize Story Builders and most are suggested in the instructions portion of the e-book. My kids and I decided to narrate our stories while sitting around the kitchen table after dinner one night. We placed the cards in their separate categories face down on the table and took one card each from all four of the category decks. After a few minutes for brainstorming ideas, we took turns “telling our stories” based on the story elements we held in our hands. As we used the element we laid the card down for others to see enabling the audience to understand which parts were creative license and which were scripted. The stories were wacky at best, but brought forth gales of laughter even from my 14 year old.

My initial reaction; the cards are fun, but not very educational. To prove me wrong, when asked what they thought the kids unanimously said, “I like it! It’s a lot of fun. Let’s play one more round”.

After a few more rounds I noticed that the 1st grader was attempting to read vocabulary way beyond her years, the pre-schooler was winning the creativity award for most unusual story telling and my fourteen year old was easily working away at creative story telling techniques, an enemy of his for many, many years. My respect for Write Shop Story Builders deepened and I began to admire the cleverness of disguising this educational tool as a “game”.

My experience using Write Shop Story Builders over the past few weeks has reinforced my belief that education is a never ending fun-filled journey of family memories. Although easily adapted to a classroom or co-op setting, Story Builders is a special treat for the home educator.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The One Year Adventure year of highschool credit wrapped up in a writing adventure!

“What makes a story a story? Why do we look for truth in books? Could it be that our hunger for story and our thirst for meaning are somehow related? Or do these merely point to something else? What if purpose is just another word for adventure?”

And so begins each DVD video lesson of the amazing, exciting, creative, enriching, well-organized, inspiring, wonderful One Year Adventure Novel curriculum. Author/Publisher Daniel Schwabauer has thoughtfully designed his 26 week/ one school year curriculum to help student’s write "the adventure of a lifetime". His use of humor, video, text, and gentle instruction are wonderfully balanced creating engaging, interesting and inspiring lessons. I am convinced that Schwabauer’s OYAN offers a way to inspire and draw out the story in every young adult. It provides them the impetus for accomplishing the Herculean task of writing a twelve chapter novel in the span of a school year.

The One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) consists of 78 DVD lessons; 3 lessons for 26 weeks. It is written and designed for maximum independent study, a great appeal for my highschool aged son who prefers to work without the “interference” of his mom. Students and parents can begin the course with virtually no preparation. For those feeling faint of heart in regards to teaching creative writing to their teenager, Schwabauer provides a short seven and a half minute lecture for teacher/parents on disk one of the 8 DVD’s included in the curriculum, plus a brief yet informative 72 page teacher’s guide complete with grading tips and record sheets. I found the video lecture extremely encouraging leaving me with a “We can do this!” attitude.

OYAN is very well organized and easily followed. In addition to the DVD lessons and teacher’s guide the course consists of a student workbook “The Map”, a textbook “The Compass”, a copy of Anthony Hope’s classic adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda, and a resource disk filled with 46 video FAQ lessons, one 10 min. "Frequently Made Mistakes" lesson, 26 quizzes, 15 adventure novels in e-book format and a partridge in a pear tree. I’m just kidding about that partridge, but kids and parents will not be able to think of one item NOT provided by Schwabauer’s comprehensive package. The curriculum sells on the OYAN website for $199 and includes free shipping! Extra student workbooks are available for $25.00 as well as snazzy t-shirts for $18.00 to advertise to the world your student’s success as a writer.

The OYAN website, as comprehensive as the curriculum, provides a student forum, student writer’s contest, and one click access to the author’s blog, “One Year Adventure Novel: Blog the Adventure”. For those still in shopping mode, sample lessons, parent and student testimonials, and reviews of the curriculum are also available. If after perusing the site you wish a test drive of your own, a FREE demo DVD is available to order.

A typical day with OYAN begins with a brief 10-15 min. engaging video lesson. My fourteen year old son and I watched his lessons on my MAC book since it had a DVD drive, but any DVD player could be used. Schwabauer provides all lectures sprinkled with video clips of movies to reinforce important points. He draws his audience into each lesson with a visually appealing set and thrilling introduction accompanied with music. He is usually dressed in a khaki cargo shirt and khaki pants sitting or standing in a library with a large globe, books and safari hat casually placed on a shelf behind him. This visual reinforcement of adventure works as I found myself believing Schwabauer had as much adventure experience to share as "Indiana Jones".

After viewing the lesson, students read through “The Compass” textbook reinforcing the video lecture provided on the DVD. Occasionally the textbook will require a brief reading from an adventure novel followed by a few questions to be answered. I had Jonah keep track of his answers for later discussion with me in a notebook. Once the textbook assignment is complete, students are asked to continue with questions in their student workbook, “The Map”. During the 1st semester these questions are designed to help create the framework or outline of the novel. Beginning at week 14, students will use these answers to write their rough draft of their novel. Student grades for the course are determined through point values awarded for “Map” questions and weekly quizzes. To ease grading time, the quiz is administered on the computer and graded immediately by the computer program. Schwabauer loves teachers!

My son Jonah, self-professed creative writing hater, said the following about OYAN. “I think the One Year Adventure Novel is more interesting than any other writing curriculum I have ever had to use. It’s not like dissecting sentences or other boring things. It involves more thinking and originality. It’s not easy, in fact it’s kind of difficult, but I think I will be able to finish it because I have finished the first few lessons successfully. Overall I think this is a good curriculum and parents should consider buying it for their kids”.

I have been on a 12 year quest for a high quality, engaging, well-organized and simple to implement English curriculum. Teaching creative writing to my children has always been a thorn in my flesh. I can write, but I have never had the ability to translate what I know in an organized and thoughtful way to my children. Ironically, my love of story telling has not inspired my children, and my inability to effectively teach and encourage this art form has discouraged them to create with the written word. They enjoy reading adventure, but have no unique stories burning within. The quest has ended. The One Year Adventure Novel is a treasure chest of inspiring education waiting to be opened.