Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Studying History with Hands-On Materials from Home School in the Woods

Reviewing: Project Passport World History Studies from Home School in the Woods - Complementary Product Received - Affiliate Links included 

History is one of my favorite subjects. I majored in history in college and was a high school history teacher for a number of years. I love getting the opportunity to study and teach history using hands-on materials that really bring the subject matter to life. All of the awesome materials we have used and reviewed from Home School in the Woods have really brought the time periods to life for our family. We have played games using their Á La Carte products and completed a Hands-On History Lap-Pak on knights. For the past several weeks, our teen has begun his world history course using the Project Passport World History Studies on the Renaissance and Reformation.

Project Passport: Renaissance & Reformation can be purchased as a download (which we received) or a CD that contains all of the necessary files for taking a trip with your 3rd-8th grade student(s). We are adapting the material for our soon-to-be 11th grade high school student. This particular Project Passport focuses upon the following:

  • Background of the Renaissance historically 
  • Examples of Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, and many others 
  • Everyday life with a sampling of food, crafts, laws, and entertainment 
  • An introduction to the inventions, exploration, and science of the time
  • Background of the Reformation including a look at famous religious leaders (Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Ulrich Zwingli, and others) 
  • A look at the history of the Tudors, Wars of Religion, the English Civil War, and the Counter-Reformation 

The Travel Planner provides an itinerary for the 25 stops that will take approximately 6 to 12 weeks altogether. As we are using this as a beginning activity for our high school teen's world history course, we did the opening activities and then skipped around a bit to focus upon different activities and projects. We are also in the middle of our summer break, so we have been working on a lighter schedule.

Before we started, I printed out the travel planner, travel itineraries, and the other pages and materials that were necessary for the first 8 stops. I am keeping all of the material in a small binder to make it easy for me to find and reference. I also like that I can have the file open on my laptop so that I can show our son an example of the completed project, if necessary.

As you read through the travel itinerary (which works similar to a lesson plan), you will see the information to share with your homeschooling child, the supplies needed, and how to print or prepare those supplies. If your child is older, you may actually be able to print out the travel itinerary and then have them read through the information in order to complete the projects on their own. Be sure to have your children read through the Guide Book Text, as that will give them the historical information they need to complete some of the projects. It will provide them with a clear understanding of the time period they are studying, as well.

With most of the stops on your journey, your children will be cutting out and gluing images of individuals, historical events, or facts onto a timeline. We are storing our timeline in our binder. So, we punched holes in it. One could either use them exactly as laid out in the instructions or use the timeline and images in a manner like we are using them. I asked our son to attach a number at a time as an introduction to the next stops (and historical topics). This way, as he looks for the location, we can briefly go over who or what he is attaching to his timeline. For example, we spent a few minutes discussing Dante's Inferno as well as Sir Francis Bacon and Humanism. Or you could use the timeline in another manner and Amy Pak at Home School in the Woods offers some ideas as well links to valuable resources for teaching with timelines.

Including More Art 

Project Passport: Renaissance & Reformation is a great resource if you are trying to fit in more art into your homeschool lessons. There are so many opportunities for your children to practice different art techniques from the past as well as create some awesome memories for their scrapbook. Personally, I loved getting to assign art projects to our teen as he is a rather good artist but prefers to not really share his talent with everyone on a regular basis.

There are also many opportunities to focus upon creative writing (there is a newspaper activity that our son is working on as we travel through the time period). If you are interested in reading more about incorporating creative writing newspapers in your homeschool, the blog at Home School in the Woods offers ideas as to their importance and structure. In addition to the creative writing, the majority of the stops include a selection of reading such as the instructions for creating an art project, the materials that will be included in the lap book, and the background information of the art techniques.

Some of the newspaper entries can be drawings, while others can be text.

In addition to reading, writing, and art, there are a number of other smaller projects that incorporate several of these facets. For example, one of the earlier activities has the students creating something for their lap book to represent the social classes of the time period. The instructions on your computer will not only give you information on how to print and put it together but there is also a photo of a sample one put together to give you the entire picture.

I love the detailed instructions for each project and activity.

As one might guess, time will also be devoted to the Bard of Avon – William Shakespeare. We skipped ahead to this stop as we had recently studied Shakespeare and read Julius Caesar this homeschool year. And when recreating the Globe Theater, we were able to read several of the more famous passages from Shakespeare:
  • "All the world's a stage" from Jaques in As You Like It 
  • "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech from Richard Gloucester in Richard III 
  • "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" of Antony in Julius Caesar 
  • And others from tragedies and comedies 

There are other ways in which we are studying the history of the Renaissance and Reformation time period. There are a series of audio files that accompanied our download. We listen to our tour guide, Agatha, as we are taken to eight different stops including that of the Globe Theater where we listen to William Shakespeare explain that his latest play will be put on soon (Hamlet). We even get to hear an excerpt from Hamlet! With special effects, the journey comes to life for listeners. The tour takes us around Europe to learn more about the places and people of the time.

And what trip wouldn't be complete without postcards? The postcards are a nice way to help bring history to life. Students will read what 16 famous people from history have to say regarding their time and lives. The backs of the postcards are blank so that students can decorate them however they choose and then they create a postcard rack to hold them.

Recommendations and Our Thoughts

My biggest recommendation to individuals purchasing materials from Home School in the Wood is: read through all of the instructions. Using materials from Home School in the Woods can seem a bit challenging as there are lots of items to print but once you start working your way through the files, it all becomes much clearer. I know the first time I was intimidated trying to figure it all out but now it seems so easy. Stick with it – Home School in the Woods creates great materials! And read through the entire instructions on the different activity sheets before you begin any project or activity.

The materials do work best if you have access to a color printer because they are often colorful. We do not have a color printer so we do our best with the black & white print outs.

Personally, I love the hands-on approach to studying history. When I was teaching high school history, I always tried to have a few hands-on projects scattered throughout the year for students who enjoyed creating, building, drawing, and using their artistic talents to demonstrate their historical knowledge. But there are some who are not as fond and would rather complete simple reading and writing assignments. When I asked our teen his opinion, he was indecisive. In some ways, I think he likes completing the projects with us (his father, he, and I worked on the Globe theater together) but I know he would also like to just get the job done to move onto his next video game mission.

Will Project Passport work for your homeschooling family? Depending upon how your children prefer to learn, I think it just might. Even if you and your children choose not to do all of the projects, you will still walk away with firm understanding of the Renaissance and Reformation time period. I know there were new facts and details that I learned while reading through the materials.

Would You Like to Know More? 

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Project Passport: Ancient Rome is the newest in this series from Home School in the Woods

Be sure to visit the rest of the reviews to see what other great resources Home School in the Woods offers for your homeschooling needs.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Book Club: Book Review of At the Wolf's Table

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When I am at the library, I sometimes peruse the 'new book' shelves in the front. I spied At the Wolf's Table: A Novel by Rosella Postorino and picked it up. My initial reason for checking the book out was because it appeared to be a historical novel with World War II as the setting. I really enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction. So I was hoping this would be of interest.

"They called it the Wolfsschanze, the Wolf’s Lair. “Wolf” was his nickname. As hapless as Little Red Riding Hood, I had ended up in his belly. A legion of hunters was out looking for him, and to get him in their grips they would gladly slay me as well." (quote from book jacket)

The main character of the book – Rosa Sauer – is a taste tester for Adolf Hitler. She, along with nine other women, taste the food prepared for Hitler to ensure they are not poisoned. These women do not necessarily get along and part of the book examines the tension between Rosa (who is from Berlin) and the women from the village.

Rosa left Berlin after the death of her mother. While her husband was serving in the German army, she lived with his parents in Gross-Partsch. Joseph and Herta were depicted almost as the typical in-laws – loving, kind, and eager to see their son.

The idea behind the story is that of Margot Wölk, who was the last living taste-tester of Hitler. At the age of 96 she decided to tell people of her experiences. Postorino heard of her and wanted to learn more about Wolk and her experience but she died before Postorino had the chance to speak with her.

I found the book to be interesting. There were details regarding living in Germany during World War II that helped bring the story to life such as the bombing of Berlin, the lack of food, and the missing men from the cities, towns, and villages.

At some points I did find the description to be beyond what I would ordinarily enjoy. There were quite a few scenes describing the sexual relationship between Rosa and another character. These were not necessarily as explicit as a romance novel but still a bit more than I wished to read in a historical fiction.

Another key event that tied the entire book to real events was that of the attempting bombing of Hitler with a briefcase. The event was discussed as it impacted the lives of those Rosa had come to know.

Would I recommend At the Wolf's Table? With caution as I do not think all my readers would enjoy reading about sexual situations or maybe even the harsh realities of life during war-torn Germany. I am happy that I picked up the book as it introduced me to a new area of history.

Interested in other historical fiction? 

From books set during World War I to books that travel back and forth in time, I have reviewed a number of historical fiction on A Mom's Quest to Teach. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

W is for War of 1812 (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

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Often called The Second War for Independence, the War of 1812 is an event that needs to be seen in relation to events happening worldwide during its time period—after the French Revolution and into the 1800s. In fact, it has been said that "The War of 1812 was a direct outgrowth of the Napoleonic Wars" (Don't Give Up the Ship, 6). But what were the causes of the War of 1812? Why did our new nation decide to fight Great Britain a second time?


With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the Reign of Terror, the French Revolutionary Wars, and then the Napoleonic Wars, European nations were in an almost constant state of warfare with lots of bloodshed. In order for Great Britain to achieve its goals, they wished to maintain supremacy over the high seas. The success of the Royal Navy led to tensions with the United States merchant ships. Prior to the War of 1812, Great Britain had faced huge human and financial costs for waging wars for almost 20 years in Europe with France.

There were several actions taken by the young American government that impacted our relations with European nations. In 1793, the Neutrality Proclamation was issued and, in 1794, the Neutrality Act was issued which prohibited American citizens from participating in European wars. In 1794, the Jay Treaty set forth trade agreements with Great Britain. This treaty upset France, led to the XYZ affair (a Quasi-War), and caused France to try to prevent Great Britain from trading with Continental Europe.
map of War of 1812 action

Growing Problems with Great Britain 

There were a number of actions and events that increased tensions between the United States and Great Britain. These include: impressment, Indian-American relations in the Old Northwest, and the Chesapeake Affair.


One of the big maritime issues often cited as a leading cause of the War of 1812 was the impressment of American seamen. These men were removed from American merchant ships to serve in the Royal Navy of Great Britain. The Royal Navy had difficulty in finding men to serve because the work was dangerous, pay was low, and the men would be moved from ship to ship with (usually) no leave. Basically, there was no end to their service. So with the lack of volunteers, the Royal Navy utilized impressment as the means to staff their ships.

A number of the American merchant ships employed British men. These were the seamen available for impressment because they were British citizens. (One could not renounce or give up being a British citizen even if they became a naturalized American citizen.) Part of the problem was that the Royal Navy would also impress native-born American citizens on occasion (maybe as many as 10,000 American citizens).

 Old Northwest 

Another cause cited by historians for the War of 1812 was that of Indian warfare and violence in the Old Northwest (modern-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). While the British had close relations with the Native Americans on both sides of the border (America and Canada), they in no way controlled the Indians. They supplied the Indians with supplies and weapons and the discovery of British weapons in the hands of the Native Americans often led Americans to blame the British for inciting violence. Indians (like the Potowatomis, Sauks, and Kickapoos) had their own agenda.

The Battle of Tippecanoe (which happened seven months prior to the start of the War of 1812 but is often included as part of the War) helped to cement the idea that there was an Anglo-Indian alliance. During this battle (which helped propel William Henry Harrison into the limelight), Indians were armed with British weapons.

Chesapeake Affair 

On June 22, 1807, H.M. ship Leopard demanded to search the U.S. frigate Chesapeake for four deserters from the Royal Navy. When the Chesapeake refused, the Leopard fired upon the American ship. The Chesapeake suffered three deaths, wounding of 16, and the British removed the deserters (three of the men were American citizens who had been impressed into the Royal Navy). This action and the continued impressment was seen as one of the main causes of tension.


What about other reasons? Was the war about land? Some historians have argued that America wanted to conquer Canadian land. The War of 1812 was probably not about land conquest. Without the maritime issues, it is unlikely that America would declare war just to annex Canadian territory. Was it about protecting the national honor of America? In Don't Give Up the Ship, author Donald R. Hickey writes that it may or may not have been fought to uphold national honor. As "honor is an elusive and abstract entity," it is difficult to pinpoint honor as the main cause of the war. Were Americans upset about impressment and the loss of commerce? Yes, but these were just two of a number of factors.

Want a humorous look at the War of 1812? 

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Studying the Stars, Planets, and God's Creation

After researching several options, we decided to study astronomy for our first grade science curriculum using Exploring Creation with Astronomy textbook and Junior Notebooking Journal (2nd edition). We decided upon this course of study because we can build upon the material our children learn this year as they get older.

What is the course? 

Exploring Creation with Astronomy is divided into 14 lessons. We have started our study with the definition of astronomy and explored basic definitions like gravity, satellites, and NASA and created our own representation of the solar system. Each lesson has a variety of activities, mini-books to create, a place for notes, copy work, and coloring pages in the junior notebooking journal.

The Lessons 

  1. What is Astronomy? 
  2. The Sun 
  3. Mercury
  4. Venus
  5. Earth
  6. The Moon 
  7. Mars
  8. Space Rocks
  9. Jupiter
  10. Saturn 
  11. Uranus
  12. Neptune
  13. Kuiper Belt and the Dwarf Planets 
  14. Stars, Galaxies, and Space Travel 
(There are also two built-in reviews of the inner and outer planets.)

The appendix of the textbook contains a supply list for each lesson and a "What do you remember?" answer key. The notebooking journal contains a suggested daily schedule for each lesson breaking down the material into daily assignments. Personally, I love these schedules because they are detailed enough to provide information for what to do each day but allows parents to be flexible to fit the material into their own homeschooling day. 

Access to the course website is included with the book (you will find your password in the front of your textbook). This provides you with links to third-party sites that will help supplement your course studies. For example, for Lesson 3 one of the links is to a photo journal of images of Mars from NASA.

How We Are Using Exploring Creation with Astronomy 

Our first grader is completing the course and using the junior notebooking journal while our preschooler is participating in the readings and in some of the activities. During our children's lunch, I read from the textbook and we talk about the beautiful photographs and illustrations as well as review the bold vocabulary words. After lunch, our son works on completing a page or two in the notebooking journal.

We are following the suggested daily schedule slowly as it is still summer time for us and we are lightly homeschooling right now. And as this is our son's first 'formal' science course, we are also spreading out some of the copy work and writing over several days. For example, we completed the What is Astronomy Matchbook over three days instead of working on it in one sitting. 

We are saving some of the activities for the weekend so that my husband can join in the hands-on learning aspect of the course. We completed two of the initial activities with his help: 
  • Create Your Own Mnemonic 
  • Build a Model Solar System 

Our model solar system using balloons

What Do We Think? 

Personally, I am really enjoying using Exploring Creation with Astronomy from Apologia. The author, Jeannie K. Fulbright, has done a great job of presenting a deep subject in a way that even young children can easily understand it but older elementary aged children will not be bored. 

The textbook and notebooking journal are made of high quality materials. They are laid out in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-read font. I love that I can read the text aloud at lunch time and hold the book quite easily for our children to see the pictures. 

Our first grader has enjoyed the different activities we have done so far and likes the variety of work in the notebooking journal. Flipping through the journal, he has found a number of activities and projects he is excited about doing soon.

Other Products 

There are a number of other products that can help you and your children study the stars, planets, and God's creation from Apologia. There is an elementary science kit that contains the 42 activities from the text and bonus activities. There is also an MP3 download/audiobook that is an audio recording of reading by the author.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

V is for Victory Garden (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

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During both World War I and World War II, there was a food crisis in Europe as to how to feed the troops. Farmers enlisted and their farms were often turned into battlefields (whether intentionally or not). Who would feed the men who were serving on the two sides during both great wars? In both wars, the United States was able to step up and provide food for a variety of reasons.

To ease food shortages and supplement food rationing, many families grew victory gardens during the wars. Because the task of growing a garden was something kids could do, they were able to participate in the war effort on the home front. All available idle land was recommended to be utilized by citizens. So one might see fruit and vegetable gardens not only in people's front or back yards but also in school yards, parks, company grounds, or vacant lots.

Promoting an Idea 

One of the ways that the idea of planting a victory garden was promoted was through the use of propaganda. This means proved to be efficient for other things during the war effort so why not pushing a positive agenda like sowing "the seeds of victory." Private and public organizations helped promote the idea of planting one's own vegetable garden such as women's clubs and chambers of commerce.

Teaching people how to properly plant, harvest, store, can, and dry their produce came in the way of pamphlets and guides for the amateur gardeners. It was estimated that there were 5.2 million gardens by the end of World War I and that by the end of World War II 20 million victory gardens had been planted.

Popular Foods Grown 

Food rationing and the diversion of food stuffs for the military and troops in World War II, led to more victory gardens (as previously stated). People become even more creative in where to plant them, such as window boxes and patios for apartment dwellers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a victory garden on the White House lawn, although she did not tend the garden herself.

Of the foods planted, the following were among the most popular: beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and squash. Of course, depending upon where someone lived and the time of the year, different crops would also be planted. It was possible to have three gardens: spring, summer, and fall/winter gardens depending upon the crops chosen. The excess food was able to be canned and used in the winter to supplement breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whether people grew victory gardens for economic or patriotic reasons, the growing of fruits and vegetables at home did help commercial farmers provide for the troops overseas, put additional food on the table during the time of rationing, and bring people together as a nation. Perhaps it even influenced the more modern movements of sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Read more history-themed posts at A Mom's Quest to Teach

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fun Summer Math Learning: A Review of Pattern Block Activity Bundle

During the summer, our family likes to go light on the homeschooling lessons. So reviewing the Pattern Block Activity Bundle from Crafty Classroom was perfect for us! With over 700 pages, the ebook PDF file has 230+ unique picture designs for your children to use with their set of pattern blocks. Our kids love working on these types of activities. We were impressed that there were three different levels for each design as well as 8 different activity pages that incorporated counting, graphing, tally marks, addition, subtraction, inequalities, writing, shape identification, ordinal number words, number words, and sequencing. The bundle will help you create "no-prep learning centers for the entire year!"

Crafty Classroom offers "top quality teaching resources" that are "low-prep" but provide "hands-on fun" for your homeschooling family or classroom. There are a variety of products for preschoolers through third graders that cover language arts, math, science, geography, and bible studies.

What Do You Receive with the Pattern Block Activity Bundle? 

A 731-page PDF eBook with several pages of explanations, the 8 activity pages, printing instructions, and the actual pattern block pages that cover the following topics:

  • Capital and lowercase alphabet letters 
  • Numbers 
  • Farm Animals
  • Forest Animals
  • Ocean Animals 
  • Zoo Animals 
  • Transportation
  • New Year's Day
  • Valentine's Day
  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Earth Day
  • Easter
  • Fourth of July 
  • Thanksgiving 
  • Christmas
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall 

Page three explains the three levels (easy, medium, and hard), how to use the set, and the breakdown of what you get and on what page to find them in your file.

As I mentioned, there are three levels of pattern block pictures. The easy level shows the geometric shapes in color where you need to complete a letter, number, or animal. The colors match the blocks from the set we own. 

The medium-level page shows the picture in black and white but the block shapes are still in color at the bottom of the page. As you can see, your child can write down the number of block shapes they needed to complete the picture at the bottom of the page. 

Finally, the hard level is just the basic outline of the picture with the shapes in color printed at the bottom. This level caused some difficulty for our children because it does require them to think outside of the box. We also found that we didn't always have to use the blocks as suggested on the easy and medium level pages. 

Who is the bundle good for? The bundle is perfect for preschool through first graders. Using the activities sheets, they can have fun while refreshing their math skills. In addition to using them as suggested with the pattern blocks and placed in plastic sleeves, I could also see my kids enjoying coloring the pages using the appropriate block colors. (And to be honest, I enjoyed working on the activity sheets with my kids. It was a bit like solving a puzzle.) 

How Did Our Family Use the Bundle? 

When the Bundle arrived, it was right before the Fourth of July, so I went to those 23 pages first. I selected several for our children to work on, including those from the medium and hard levels. (I didn't print out any from the easy level as our color printer is not working.) I also went through and printed out the first few uppercase letters and numbers. Our daughter then picked some summer pictures and animal pictures.

The Fourth of July pictures included this firework along with fire crackers, an eagle, statue of liberty, and stars.

On several evenings, after snack but before bedtime, our children worked on the pattern block pages. They started off using the medium-level pages (the hard ones were apparently too hard according to them in the beginning). They worked through the pictures both separately and together using our two sets of pattern blocks. 

One of the animal pictures that our daughter picked.

We then worked on some of the activity sheets. Some of the activities included new ideas for our son and daughter. I think their favorite activity sheet was the graphing one. I had to print out additional graphing sheets for them to work on during our homeschooling day. 

I love how easy it is to use these pattern block activities during the day in our free homeschooling moments. And that my kids can pull them out of the folder themselves and work on them whenever they want to on their own. They don't realize that they are actually working math skills as they complete the pattern sheets. If you put them in plastic sleeves, you could organize them in a binder by category to make it easier to find the exact pages you want for each lesson or activity. 

One of the activity sheets that requires the student to add the shapes.

Our son's favorite part? He liked the activity sheet where he drew the cow he built with the blocks as well as the tally sheet he used with the car pattern block sheet.

What about our four-year-old daughter? She really liked doing the graphs as she is just starting to read (and writing is still a bit in the future for her). The graphs let her fill out an activity sheet like her brother at her level. She really liked the Statue of Liberty, sand castle, and the animals we printed out.

I would recommend homeschooling parents, parents of children who attend public or private school, or schools pick up the Pattern Block Activity Bundle (there are different purchase options depending on whether you homeschool or are purchasing for a classroom). They make a perfect math activity for your children to cycle through in their regular classwork. So if you have a bag or box full of the pattern blocks, pick up this bundle for your home or classroom!

They look really cool with the transparent pattern blocks.

Do You Wish to Learn More about Crafty Classroom?

There were other products reviewed by the Homeschool Review Crew. Families reviewed the following:

Please visit the reviews to see how other families incorporated these products into their homeschooling day.