I have been blessed with being part of the Homeschool Review Crew since 2018. It has not actually been a very long time, but I feel like the Crew Members and the staff of its parent company – The Old Schoolhouse® – have been part of my life for so much longer. Being on the Crew has had such a positive impact on our homeschooling quest, I wanted to share with you what it is like to be a Crew member. While I may share information about several different reviews that we completed, I will be focusing upon BJU Press Focus on Fives from BJU Press Homeschool in a few parts to better illustrate my points.
Read on to explore my days as a Crew Member – daily tasks, time commitment, using, reviewing, and writing
Seeing a New Product is Available to Review
Over the course of the year, Crew members will have the opportunity to review quite a number of different products and curricula. In 2018, I reviewed over 20 products. In 2019, I reviewed over 30 products. In 2020, before I joined the Crew Leadership Team this summer, I reviewed over 25 products. These are conservative numbers because I may have missed a few when I was looking through my blog planner (as a Crew member you get an awesome planner to help you track your reviews).
When a new product is available, Crew members are provided with the name of the company, the product, and links to each so we can research more about them. It is very important to take time and read over the available information on the company and product. Will this be a good fit for our family? Do my kids do learn best with online programs or hands-on curricula? How will we be able to incorporate this new material or curriculum into our homeschool day?
When deciding whether or not I would like to review Focus on Fives from BJU Press Homeschool, I looked over their website and spoke with our daughter because it is a kindergarten curriculum. There were eight components included in the review product, so I clicked through the different links to read about each part - the teacher's editions, worktexts, books, visual chart, and more. There were also videos available to watch to learn more about Focus on Fives.
Over the course of the year, when learning about other vendors and their products, I have even sought out reviews done by previous homeschoolers. Sometimes this means reading blogs or watching YouTube videos to see the product in action. All this research takes time but ensures that the materials will be the right fit for our family.
Making the Review Product a Part of Our Homeschool Day
I find it easier to incorporate new homeschool products and curricula into the schedules of our younger children than into our high school student's schedule. Of course, when a curriculum comes along that will greatly help our high school homeschooling student, it is easy to make a switch. For example, CTCMath was a great fit for our older son because he does better with video lessons for mathematics.
When reviewing Focus on Fives, we used the materials almost every day. It was requested that we use the curriculum three to five days a week, as it is a complete curriculum with reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and more. Since we are a homeschooling family, we adapted the curriculum to meet the needs of our family. So sometimes we skipped parts (e.g., lessons that were teaching skills our daughter already mastered) to include more of the optional activities.
How long does it take to use the product? Every review product will take a different amount of time to incorporate into ones' homeschool. For example, a game like Math Sprint from Byron's Games was rather easy to incorporate. We played the game several times after dinner. With Focus on Fives, our daughter and I sat down together during the day to complete the lessons. Sometimes, the lessons took 15 to 30 minutes. Other times, they took longer because we were completing art projects or reading story books.
Behind the Scenes of a Homeschooling Blogger
In addition to actually using the review product, as a homeschooling blogger, I need to take photographs of the product (or screenshots for online programs). I share some of those photographs on my social media platforms before publishing my review. This helps advertise that I have a review coming up on my blog and helps the vendor because their product will be seen by those who follow me. For me, it is a bit trickier to take photographs because I have chosen not to share the faces of our children. So, I have to position the product in such a way as to show off the work being completed as well as protect our children's identities.
Sometimes, I write my actual review post while we are using the product. I compose the general information about the company or the product in the beginning weeks (we usually have about four weeks or so to use the product before our review is due). I also like to prepare the information on my blog that shares links to the vendor and their social media accounts, the legal disclaimer, and the links back to the Crew's anchor post.
In the final days before the review is due, I write about how we used the product in our homeschool. I might also interview our children to share their opinion of the product. Sometimes, I even ask my husband to include his thoughts when he is editing my posts (I ask him to edit all my blog posts). It is during this final phase that I will make my graphics, too.
How long does it take to prepare the review post? If I am not interrupted, I can write my entire blog post in about an hour or so. I edit all my photographs on my phone, download them, and then put them into my blog or create graphics with them. This can take anywhere from one to two hours, depending upon technology cooperating. Putting in the links and ensuring they work takes a shorter amount of time – maybe 15 minutes or so. I will also check my links after I publish my blog post to ensure they are all correct.
Now that I Have Published My Post
Once my review is posted, I still have responsibilities as a Crew member. I must link up my review on the Crew's anchor post. There are specific instructions to follow to make it easier for the team to check that I included all the necessary information – links, photographs, how we used the product, etc. After linking up, I need to share my blog post at least two times on social media. I usually share more than that on multiple social media platforms. After I share my post on social media, I fill out a Google form to share those links. My links will be shared with the rest of the Crew members with the vendor! There is a possibility for great exposure for my review.
If you are already blogging, you probably have an idea of how long it takes to share your blog posts on social media. Personally, the only scheduler I use is that on Facebook, so I manually pin, tweet, and post all my shares. I use the blog planner provided by the Crew to track how many times I have shared my blog post on the various social media platforms. I try to share each review once to Facebook, twice to Twitter, at least once to Instagram, and three times to Pinterest. I space these shares out of the course of a week, so each day, I may spend 15 to 30 minutes sharing my most recent review.
Being a member of the Homeschool Review Crew is a blessing and a responsibility. It is important to use each product provided by the vendors in our homeschool, write a Christ-honoring but truthful review of the product, and fulfill the obligations in sharing the review. When I have needed help – a product did not arrive in a timely fashion or something was not a good fit for our family – I have been able to seek the advice and wisdom of my fellow Crew members and Crew Leadership Team. By joining the Crew, you will add additional time commitments to your day, but you will be joining a family that participates in card exchanges, swaps recipes, prays for each other, and promotes each others' blogs and social media accounts.
The only other part that I haven't discussed was that – to be an active Crew member – you must post at least one other non-review post a week. There are many opportunities to share non-review posts while being on the Crew. There are weekly blog challenges that allow you to link up and write a non-review post hosted by the Crew as well as other link-ups and challenges shared by Crew members. In the past, several Crew members (including me) have written weekly posts Blogging through the Alphabet.
Do You Want to Join?
Now that I have shared a glimpse into my life as a Crew member, would you like to join? You will grow your blog, YouTube, and/or social media platforms and – at the same time – review new and interesting homeschooling products. I invite you to apply to join the Homeschool Review Crew! As a team, we work together, using current on-the-market home education products and then share those experiences with our readers and viewers. If you are a homeschooling parent that is willing to review products, then this might be a great opportunity for you! Apply here: www.homeschoolcrew.com.