Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Holidays – Thanksgiving


Holidays mean so many different things for each individual. Everyone has one or another holiday they prefer over others depending upon which they celebrate in their family. For some, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. It conjures up images of families gathered around a large table eating dinner, watching (or playing) football, and relaxing with a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin pie.


Over the course of my life, Thanksgiving has created many varied memories – from traveling three hours to my uncle's on Thanksgiving day itself or spending time with cousins when I was unmarried to enjoying dinner at our own house to spending it with my husband's family. I even have one memory of working during the early hours of Thanksgiving morning at the zoo helping my fellow Education staff care for our reptiles, amphibians, and insects in our education collection. (That is a fun memory I will always cherish.)

turkey clipartFavorite Foods 

For picky eaters, like myself, Thanksgiving dinner may evoke anxiety and fear. For the longest time, my mom (and later I) would bring something for me to eat in case the typical fare was not something I wanted. To this day, I am still not a huge fan of turkey (but I do love mashed potatoes and gravy!).

Over the years, I have discovered more dishes that I enjoy and found that there are even some that I like which my husband (who is considerably less picky than me) does not like. And of course, if you have children, you know how difficult it can be to find something they might enjoy. Or you find one Thanksgiving they eat everything on their plate and the next one you are bringing a can of Chef Boyardee for them for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Family Fun 

When my mom and I joined our cousins, Thanksgiving meant time to spend together in the kitchen and around the dining room table sharing stories and memories. On a few occasions, we might have played a game but mostly we talked and chatted.

As a parent of small children, Thanksgiving has, at times, been less about socializing with adults and more about keeping the kids entertained or at least not breaking anything. For the last two years, our son has entertained us with a game he created – Toss Pal – using paper (or plastic) cups and teams that attempt to toss their cup onto or into the cup in the middle. He was so excited about playing it this year – especially since Dad bought him his own set of special plastic cups.

Thanksgiving crafts and games

The Spirit of Thanksgiving 

With all the food and family fun, it is sometimes easy to overlook that the point of Thanksgiving is giving thanks. Being thankful and showing gratitude for the people in our life is so important on this day and the other 364 days of the year. So let us remember: "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 107: 1)

Psalm 107:1

How do you spend Thanksgiving? Is it a quiet meal at home? 
Is it in service to others? 

Looking for more Thanksgiving-related posts? Please check out the following:

corn shaker craft

Handprint Turkey craft

Leaf Turkey

I joined up with Timberdoodle to share this Holiday post!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reading and Learning About Great Books: A Review of LitWits Kits

LitWits Kits logo

If you haven't realized it by this point in reading A Mom's Quest to Teach, most of our family loves to read. So I was excited to review the LitWits Kits produced by LitWits. When you first visit the LitWits website, you are met with the following:

"Make great books real! Because kids who read great books become great grown-ups."

According to the site, the Kits offer "fun, creative ways to engage kids with wonderful books!" These ideas fit right into our homeschooling philosophy. One of our main goals is to develop and foster the love of reading in our children. We have struggled over the years with fostering this idea in our older son, but so far both our younger children have caught the love of reading for us.

Using the LitWits Kits has helped us spend time discussing The Hobbit with our teen who is reading the classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien this homeschool year. And I have also looked through two other kits to help introduce Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to our younger children.

For the review, we were offered the opportunity to select up to four LitWits Kits from their collection of 46 kits. We chose the following three to use and review:

If you are interested in seeing just what a LitWits Kit looks like, they offer a sample kit so you can see the 9 main components of the kits. Personally, I love that they provide so much information on their site so you can see what the products are all about before you make a purchase. 

The LitWits Kits are based upon the interactive, immersive literature workshops that the founders, Becky and Jenny, have been holding since 2010. Children who participate in the workshops have a particular classic book and they spend the workshop time doing what the characters in the book did and connecting them to teaching experiences. 

In order to help parents and homeschoolers, the LitWits Kits are a private webpage for each book that provides you with the ideas used in the workshop along with learning links and audiovisual links. Having a variety of links in one place makes it so much easier than having to create your own unit study or searching out links yourself in the middle of a lesson.

learning links for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz LitWits Kit
Part of the Learning Links available for The Wonderful World of Oz LitWits Kit

I did find because the Kits are based upon workshops for more than one child, some of the activities are a bit difficult for me to adapt to using with just our teen or with just our two younger children. For example, in The Hobbit Kit, one of the activities is called Whose Shoes? which first discusses the home of Bilbo and then asks kids in groups to examine a pair of shoes and describe the person who they belong to. We tried to hold this discussion at dinner time and actually switched it up by talking about baseball caps but it didn't work as well as it might have if the activity were completed in a co-op, group, or classroom setting.

Our teen is also in the middle of reading The Hobbit so we haven't been able to complete some of the activities such as The Triple Textural Arc project. This project allows your child to discuss how the events in the story helped Bilbo grow. There is even a script to help you facilitate the discussion. I hope to complete this activity with our son when he is finished reading the book. It will provide a good way to review the exposition, conflict, action, climax, and resolution of The Hobbit

The Hobbit LitWits Kits Arc
The Story Arc shared on the LitWits Kits site for The Hobbit.

Elvish Sword from The Hobbit

What Are the Key Parts of the LitWits Kits? 

  • Sensory Prop Ideas 
  • Bookbites Ideas 
  • Creative Project Ideas & Instructions/Templates 
  • Kinetic Activity Ideas & Instructions/Prompts 
  • Academic Handouts 
  • Creative Writing Handouts 
  • Takeaway Topics 
  • Learning Links 
  • Audiovisual Links 
  • Common Core State Standards Alignment 
Don't worry too much if you are not a fan of the Common Core. The Kits have links at the end that tell you how their activities are aligned with the standards. I did not feel that the idea of the Common Core standards was prevalent throughout the Kits.  So if you are interested in how they align with the standards, you can click on the link or—if you have no interest—you can bypass this small section of the Kits. 

How Did We Use the LitWits Kits? 

As I said earlier, our son is in the middle of reading The Hobbit. Since he could not remember much of the story from his dad reading it to him when he was little, I asked him to draw a picture based upon what he remembered of the Tolkien's Lonely Mountain Project. This project is drawn from the 1937 dust jacket of The Hobbit and allows one to discuss perspective, illustrations of book covers, and more with your child. I thought, as our son likes to draw, this would be a good way to have him think about the story before and after he read the book. We will revisit the activity when he has completed reading the book and I will ask him to draw another picture.

drawing of the ring from The Hobbit

Our younger children have heard part of the tale of The Hobbit and seen some of the movies so I thought it would be fun to have them complete the Elvish Sword with their brother. All three children enjoy being creative, painting with special silver paint, and using beads, buttons, and sequins to decorate their swords.

craft materials to make Elvish Sword from The Hobbit
Gathering the materials 

Making Elvish Swords from The Hobbit
Working on Elvish Swords

Other Fun Activities 

While we didn't get to use all the activities and ideas provided in the LitWits Kits, I would like to share a few more of the awesome ideas with you. For example, each of the three Kits we received has a section on food and refreshments. Using The Hobbit Kit, you could recreate Beorn's Feast or with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, children could enjoy peaches, bread, and lemonade (in the story they drink green lemonade in Emerald city).

Another fun activity from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz includes the Seeing Green project where children can create green-lenses glasses. This can help introduce the discussion of symbolization in the book. Over the years there has been a lot of speculation as just to what the different characters and things in the Frank L. Baum stories might represent (if they represent anything at all). This is a great topic for older children and even high school-aged kids who are studying the Gilded Age of America. The LitWits Kit offers an introduction and links to various views on the political interpretation of the story.

Seeing Green Project instructions

The final fun activity I want to share is one from The Journey to the Center of the Earth LitWits Kit. In the Stromboli Erupts project, kids build their own volcano to represent the one which helped propel the explorers back to the surface of the Earth. Our younger children really enjoyed putting together the volcano and watching it 'erupt.' We will probably do this activity again.
Stromboli Erupts Volcano activity
Our Reenactment of Mount Stromboli

What Did We Think?

I like that there are so many options for classic books and they are continuing to develop more through their workshops that will be released in the future. Click here if you want to see a list of 100+ book recommendations from LitWits.

Personally, I think the LitWits Kits would be a fantastic fit for families who have multiple children who are really close in age. One could then have several children read the story together and then use the Kit together as a family. With our children on the outside of the age range, I found it difficult to use the Kits to the fullest extent possible. I think that in a few years' time (when our two younger children are independently reading chapter books), we will be able to revisit the Kits again and more completely use all three of them. As we retain access to the Kits for the life of the company, I know I can return to them to access all the websites that the Kits have brought together for me. 

Do You Want to Learn More? 

LitWits Logo

With over 46 kits to choose from, be sure to check out the other reviews so you can see how other members of the Homeschool Review Crew used the LitWits Kits in their homeschool. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

I is for Iron Brigade (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

civil war cannon image from Canva

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The Iron Brigade was one of the many nicknames for an infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. They were formed on October 1, 1861, with the following regiments falling under the command of Brigadier General Rufus King: 7th Wisconsin, 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana. They were also called the Black Hats due to their 1858 black-felt Hardee hats which caused the Westerners to look even taller and made them extremely distinguishable among the soldiers in the army and they were also called the King's Wisconsin Brigade. In addition to the broad-brimmed, high-crowned Hardee hats, they wore thigh-length frock coats in the field. The Iron Brigade, an all-western brigade, had the reputation of one of the best units in the army.

In addition to being the only all-western brigade to serve in the Eastern army on the Eastern front, they also suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the American Civil War by the end of the war. For example, they suffered a 60% casualty rate at the Battle of Gettysburg. One thousand one hundred fifty-three were killed or wounded out of one thousand eight hundred eighty-five who participated in the battle. The all-Virginia Stonewall Brigade had the same distinction within the Confederate army of suffering the highest percentages of casualties.

Some of the battles in which the Iron Brigade fought include Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. They earned their distinctive nickname at the Battle at South Mountain in 1862.

Civil War Reenactors firing cannon image by Wendy Luby from Pixabay
image by: Wendy Luby from Pixabay


At the Battle of Antietam, the Iron Brigade saw great frenzy on the battlefield. They were at the forefront of the opening attack. The 6th Wisconsin, part of the Iron Brigade, had 40 men killed and 112 wounded out of the 300 men engaged in the battle. In general, it was stated that they had only 400 to 500 left out of the 2500 men who were marching with the Brigade two months prior to Antietam. The men proudly stated that there were no sick men nor any stragglers. There were no cowards. The men who were not present had either died or were wounded on the battlefield.


Civil War CannonDuring the Battle of Gettysburg the Iron Brigade (or the Black Hats) was one of the hardest fighting. Perhaps, they were the hardest fighting outfit in the Army of the Potomac. The Iron Brigade was the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the I Army Corps. They were part of Reynolds' division that helped push back the Confederates on the morning of the first day.

On July 1, 1863, the Confederates were in the woods, on the other side of McPherson's ridge. The Iron Brigade was along Emmitsburg Road and they marched towards the Lutheran Seminary. The five regiments were commanded by Solomon Meredith and moved forward at double-quick to reach the Seminary.

The Iron Brigade moved through Herbst's Woods on the southern side of Cashtown Pike. They would have to move quickly into battle, actually loading and fixing their bayonets on the way.

One of the specific ways in which the Iron Brigade helped slow down the Confederate advance on the first day was with the charging of the 6th Wisconsin order by Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. The Confederates on one side of the railroad cut, the 2nd Mississippi, were able to quickly fire off one volley that seemed to knock over half the men of the three regiments that rushed the fifty-yard. Even with this attack meeting the Yankee charge, the men of the 95th New York, 14th Brooklyn, and 6th Wisconsin regiments surged forward and were upon the Mississippians. Dawes ordered the surrender of the Confederate regiment and this brought him 200 prisoners, a rebel battle flag, and officers' swords. With the position of this land, the Confederate advance on the morning of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was slowed.

This history of individual regiments, brigades, and companies can be quite interesting. While researching the Iron Brigade, I was able to learn more about the events of the early morning of July 1, 1863, as well as about the uniforms of the different Union soldiers. I highly recommend researching not only battles and famous leaders during the American Civil War but also regiments like the Iron Brigade.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reflecting Upon Another Year with the Homeschool Review Crew: 2019

apple and books

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I am finishing up my second year as a member of The Old Schoolhouse® Homeschool Review Crew. While researching homeschooling, I found my way to and contacted them about writing a course for them. Eventually, I filled out an application to join the Crew and the rest has been history.

Our family has been blessed with many opportunities through my time reviewing for the Homeschool Review Crew as well as my time working in other capacities for I am truly thankful for the friendships I have built, the products we have received to review which have been integral in our homeschool, and the new work avenues that have opened for me. Last year, I looked back upon our favorite products from 2018 and in this post, I would like to share what we enjoyed the most in 2019.

pencil, book, geometric pattern blocks

Online Resources and Products 


One of my favorite online resources that we reviewed from 2019 has been IXL from IXL Learning. All three of our kids were able to have access to the program which has been very helpful during our homeschool days. I was able to assign review questions for geometry for our teen. For our two younger children, I often just let them work on areas of their own choosing. As we also had access to the program via their app on our tablet, our younger kids often thought of IXL as more of a game than an educational tool.

Our kids love the awards and prizes that are given out as they answer questions correctly, practice for a certain number of days, master skills, or complete categories. Our first grader loves working through the different subject areas for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade as he picks out new topics to test his knowledge.


As a mom, one of the resources I was very thankful to review and receive a family membership for was CTCMath, as all three of our kids can use it for their mathematics. Our homeschooling teen is using it for his Algebra II and our younger children are working through kindergarten and first grade. CTCMath makes it so much easier for me knowing that math is taken care of and I don't have to worry about what resources we will be using or need.

IXL web page and StoryTime books

Print Resources 

Memoria Press 

One of my favorite companies that I have been privileged to review several products from is Memoria Press. Through learning more about their company, I have discovered that I really like Classical Education. I love the idea of ensuring that our children are familiar with great books and the great thinkers of Western tradition.

We were able to review three different products from Memoria Press:

We used each with our six-year-old as he moved from kindergarten to first grade. The First Start Reading Program with the Classical Phonics book really was a great start to his working on reading and writing. As to the lessons he did not finish, we will be able to use those with his sister as she has been working steadily on reading and writing.

Classical phonics, StoryTime, Stone Soup book

I have enjoyed using both the Simply Classical Writing books and the StoryTime Treasures student and teacher book in our homeschool language arts lessons. We also get to incorporate Bible Study with our edition of Simply Classical Writing as we are using the Bible Story Edition. StoryTime Treasures allows both our younger children to enjoy classic books together as we read the story and then our first grader works on key language arts skills as he completes exercises in his student workbook.

I can easily see our homeschooling family using products from Memoria Press for years to come!

Crafty Classroom 

One of the fun homeschooling resources we reviewed as the Pattern Block Activity Bundle from Crafty Classroom. With such a huge selection of patterns to use with pattern/geometric blocks, I have had a great time picking and choosing different ones as we move through the seasons. With over 700 pages, there are always new ones to print and share with our kids.

pattern block picture

Books And Media 

We had the chance to review so many great books this homeschool year! From Heroes of History – Ronald Reagan from YWAM Publishing to the first two books in the Goldtown Beginnings Series from Kregel Publications, everyone in our family has been able to enjoy new books. With these additions to our homeschool library, I have been able to add more titles to our children's wishlists and incorporate new authors into our library.

We also started our collection of DVDs from Drive Thru History® with a review of Acts to Revelation. Our family enjoyed sitting down together after dinner to watch each new episode as Dave Stotts took us on a journey through the New Testament after the Gospels. We have since made several purchases to add to the collection with Discovering America's Founders and others. 

Drive Thru History DVDs

These, of course, are only a few of the excellent products we have reviewed this year. Other members of the Crew have also shared many reviews through 2019 and shared their favorite products on their own blogs. On November 15, 2019, please take a moment and check out what the rest of the Crew has to say about 2019. I look forward to what 2020 will bring for all of us. Happy Homeschooling!

Homeschool Review Crew Blue Ribbon awards

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

H is for Hancock (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

cover of Hancock biography

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Winfield Scott Hancock presents one of the typical soldiers of the time period. He graduated from West Point in 1844, served in the Mexican War, and then served in the American Civil War. And like other men of the time period, he was first highly regarded, then received criticism after the war, only to be seen in high regard again in the present day.

Hancock was described as one of the handsomest men in the army. He was always neatly dressed. Even in the middle of a long march, he had clean, pressed white shirts. In addition to his appearance, Hancock was also noted for several other key things in relation to fighting. Even though he was always in the thick of action during battle, he did not actually court danger on the battlefield but did what he was ordered. He had an air of command and cared for details. He was meticulous, thorough, and very businesslike in military manners but during social hours, Hancock was gentle and kind. He learned the names of every officer in his command. McClellan referred to Hancock as "superb."

drawing of Fredericksburg battle

Hancock was involved in several important battles and campaigns including:

  • Peninsular Campaign 
  • Battle of Antietam 
  • Battle of Fredericksburg
  • Battle of Chancellorsville 
  • Battle of Gettysburg 
  • Battle of Wilderness 
  • Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
  • Siege of Petersburg 
After the Civil War, he oversaw the execution of the conspirators who planned the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.


On November 17, 1862, Hancock's division arrived at Falmouth, Virginia, across the river from Fredericksburg. At the time there were only a few Confederate cavalry men in the town. With the delay of the arrival of pontoon boats till November 25, Confederate General Longstreet was able to become entrenched in the city of Fredericksburg and General Jackson was on his way. The element of surprise was gone.

Ambrose Burnside image from
Ambrose Burnside

During the time, there were two promotions that came through for Hancock. On November 29, he was promoted Major General of Volunteers and then on November 30, he was promoted to Major in Quartermaster Corps in the regular army.

Hancock was worried about the plan outlined by General Ambrose Burnside. He voiced this concern of attempting to take the fortified heights (Marye's Heights). He was not the only man who thought this was a disastrous move to make but the Union would send more than one attack up that hill.

Hancock's division was sent to support the engineers who were working on the pontoon bridges to cross the Rappahannock River, they then crossed the river on December 12 and spent the night in the ruined town of Fredericksburg. His division then followed Sumner's division in attacking Marye's Heights. He tried to support his men wherever he could and suffered a minor wound when he was grazed by a musket ball.

The Battle of Fredericksburg was a loss for the Union. There were 12,000 Union casualties with Hancock's division having suffered 1,200. He wrote to his wife, "It was desperate undertaking, and the army fought hard." After the battle, Hancock took a leave of absence so he could spend time with his wife and his children.

Hancock returned to duty and was involved in several other battles including playing a key part in the Battle of Gettysburg. If you wish to learn more about Winfield Scott Hancock, I recommend reading about his friendship with Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead and the Battle of Gettysburg.

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