Tag Archives: Homeschool Resource

Supplementing Your Homeschool Curriculum with Digital Downloads

Sounds of Worship (3)

We are mostly set on the core curriculum that we use from year-to-year with each of our children (see above ‘Homeschooling’ menu for each Grade). But we have left room to fill some gaps with additional unit studies, delight-direct learning, projects, additional copywork and audiobooks, and anything else along the way that we like the look of.

As their teacher, I can never know in advance what is going to ‘click’ with each of my children, but when something does, I like to make sure I embrace their interests and natural talents with additional opportunities to develop their strengths and keep learning fun.

I’m a strong believer in allowing room to be flexible with learning, and if something isn’t working after a good trial period, it’s time to change it or to find ways of freshening things up. I have one child in particular that tires easily of the same thing, so supplementing with other things really helps things around here!

I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours researching curriculum and looking for free downloads. What I’ve discovered is that it’s worth just purchasing the right resources to save the time and also because quality resources are simply worth the investment.

Why use Digital Downloads

As much as I love the feel of a printed book in my hands, like a devotional book for myself, when it comes to curriculum though, there are a number of benefits to having downloaded files stored on your computer or tablet to use.

You can print multiple copies easily, use with all your children, only print what you use, save on shipping costs, and also pick up great curriculum for lower prices. It’s more economical, and frequently also more affordable.

I use our notebooking pages every day in our homeschool, plus numerous lapbooks, unit studies, copywork, audios and more, most days. It’s a bit of a change of mindset, as we are so used to the way we’ve always done things, but the change in technology is truly a gift if we learn to embrace the good from it and utilize it to our advantage.

Ways to Supplement

  • Add in unit studies to your history for the year, whether you are doing a theme for the entire year and you want to supplement (like Ancient History), or take a break from your existing curriculum for a couple of weeks to freshen things up. We do both.
  • Print off reading log pages for your child to record books read (including those from the library).
  • Listen to audiobooks in the car, during learning ‘breaks’, or while you are teaching another child. We love Jim Weiss audiobooks, and are also using The Mystery of History this year too.
  • Print copywork pages when there is a topic that you have enjoyed in your usual studies (eg. a more focused topic during Middle Ages History, or a country study that grabs your child’s interest from a read-aloud).
  • Add in attractive notebooking pages to accompany your regular curriculum, instead of just buying regular lined paper. We use IEW (Fix-it Grammar and Theme studies) which still need additional pages, as does our history and other subjects. It just makes the finished work more appealing to the eye, your child will feel more satisfied with what they’ve produced, and we are all about increasing their enjoyment of things like grammar!
  • Jump into the colouring book trend that is popular right now, and find some resources that have a colouring and learning component. We have just gotten Fine Linen and Purple for our eldest daughter, and it’s absolutely gorgeous!
  • Use ebooks on your tablet when you are travelling or away from home, and save on that much needed space in the car.
  • Take your schooling with you when you are at a child’s extra curricular activities, and get in some extra learning time with your other children.

I hope that gives you some ideas on how you can add in these things to keep your homeschool fresh, learning fun and flexible, and doing it in a way that is affordable and economical.

~ Victoria

Veritas Press: Self-Paced History – Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation {A Review}

Veritas Press

Homeschool history has reached new heights in our home over the past few weeks, as we’ve had the privilege of reviewing the ‘Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation’, one of the online courses on offer from Veritas Press. This program has energised our learning more than anything else for a long time, and I’m excited to tell you all about it!

The online program is complete in itself, with no supplementary material required, besides a stunning set of the 32 Middle Ages, Ren & Ref Flashcards that correspond with the lessons and are intended for the purpose of reviewing the course content. We also used them to order the 32 significant events chronologically for the time period.

About Middle Ages, Renaissance and ReformationSelf-Paced History

Veritas Press follows a classical Christian approach in that it teaches history chronologically, and aims to keep Christ at the centre of your child’s learning.

Here are some of the main features of the program:

  • The age range is intended for Grades 2nd-6th.
  • The self-paced program is designed to do over a full year at the student’s own pace and contains 160 lessons, with 5 lessons for each of the 32 important historical events
  • The 32 flashcards cover the period from St Augustine to John Knox and are used along with the memory song within the course and for the purpose of review.
  • The program mainly uses actors to present history with realistic backdrops that are relevant to the time period.

VP Collage 3.1

To give you a sampling of what is covered, here are the first 8 of 32 significant historical events (40 lessons) that we have managed to complete so far:

  • Augustine Converts to Christianity
  • Barbarians and Vikings
  • St Jerome Completes the Vulgate
  • The Council of Chalcedon
  • St Benedict and Monasticism
  • Justinian the Great
  • Mohammed and Islam
  • Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne

We’ve looked ahead on the lesson list and are especially looking forward to learning about William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, St Francis of Assisi, and the Renaissance. To be honest, I can hardly wait myself!

VP Collage 10.1

Historical Literature

There is an optional literature component, with historical fiction titles to include in your history studies (two different levels). We did not complete this component for the purpose of this review. But as we have many of the titles listed, we took the opportunity to enhance the learning experience and bring these books out off our shelves.  Adding in the historical literature would be a great way of furthering your child’s learning of the time period.

VP Collage 2.1

 How the Program Works

This online program utilises a number of different ways of presenting the course content:

  • Actors dressed in period costumes present most of the course content with realistic backdrops in a style that is engaging and informative, and although the content is fairly in-depth, it’s also age appropriately presented.
  • A memory song is used to cover the chronological component, as well as reinforcing the key dates, people and events of the 32 main historical events (lyrics can be viewed and/or printed).
  • Games and activities are dispersed through the lessons, often using multi-choice questions to review material.
  • Other activities are used at different times, such as word searches, mapping, spelling, timelines activities and others.
  • There are end of lesson tutorial quizzes every 5 lessons (graded) and a shorter assignment/quiz at the beginning at the next group of 5 lessons (ungraded).
  • There are 8 supplementary activities (completed offline) over the full course, the first of which my daughter completed on ‘monastic manuscript’.

VP Collage 4.1

In true Classical style, the course is heavy on memorising important dates, which was sometimes a stretch for my 3rd Grader (particularly in the beginning). But gladly she didn’t find the memorising monotonous or too overwhelming.  The great thing was that every lesson and quiz reviewed previous lesson content and reinforced what my daughter had already learned.

Functionality and Ease of Use

The program is very easy to navigate with only a few buttons or options to click. Each lesson needs to be completed before the next slide is unlocked, and you can pause at any time. If needed, there is an option for further help and support, but we didn’t need to use this.

Middle Ages, Ren & Ref Flashcards

The flashcards have all 32 historical events covered in the course, with a summary on each side containing the key information and dates for each – from ‘St Augustine Converts to Christianity’ through to ‘John Knox in Scotland’. The flashcards are not absolutely necessary to have, but are certainly a great option to add to the enjoyment of learning, as well as being useful to review the lesson content before the graded tests (resulting in a better grade).

They’ll also be great to have in future when we’ve finished the online component of the course and just want to review this period of history.  The flashcards are sold separately.

VP Collage 9.1How We Used It

We aimed to use the course 4 times a week, but because my daughter enjoyed it so much, we did 1-2 lessons a day, 4-5 times a week. Each lesson took about 20 minutes (less time for the quiz lessons).

As my daughter was initially not used to online learning, or to tests and grades, she needed some supervision to start with, but quickly picked up how it works and what to expect each lesson.

There was no option to skip ahead of the current lesson, as they can only be unlocked once the previous lesson is completed. So my daughter simply worked through each slide within each lesson, with little supervision from me.

VP Collage 11.1

My Thoughts on ‘Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation

This really is an outstanding online history program. I was impressed at how history was presented age-appropriately, despite there being some fairly graphic events that occurred during the time of the Middle Ages. I especially liked the consistent connections made between historical events and Church history.

The music accompanying the slides throughout the course follows the theme of the Middle Ages, or is suited to the place of interest for each lesson (eg. Arabia).

A Note on the Age Level:

I’m of the opinion that the content itself is better pitched at an Advanced 3rd Grade student, or 4th Grade up, as it covers history at a depth that may be beyond younger students and some of the activities (eg. spelling longer words) could be a stretch. To complete the course for 2nd and 3rd Grade students, a parent could possibly sit through the lessons and explain some of the more difficult concepts and help with date and event memorising. But to really get the most out of it, I would recommend waiting until your child is just that little bit older.  You may also like to view the sample lessons to determine whether or not your child is ready.

VP Collage 5.1

I can see how this self-paced history course would be a popular choice for Classical homeschooling families.  But I believe this would also be a great fit for homeschooing families of all educational philosophies and methods.

I highly recommend this comprehensive, engaging, and enjoyable course to all homeschooling families who love history and want to take their learning experience to a new level.

Pricing and Links

[For System Requirements, see Veritas Press FAQs]

VP Collage 7.1

Two slides of the memory song, which puts the 32 historic events to music.

Review Crew permalink

TOS disclaimer graphic

My Top 6 New Zealand History Books

My Top 10 NZ History pin 1

I recently went on a hunt for the best New Zealand history books I could find, as so many I’ve come across just do not stir up an excitement to learn about our nation’s history. So here are a handful of elementary/primary age titles that we have enjoyed recently.

Taketakerau : The Millennium Tree – Marnie Anstis

TaketakerauFinally, here is a New Zealand history book that brings alive our story in a way that is memorable and moving. This beautifully created book tells of two narrations and timelines alongside one another: one of a 2000 year old tree woven together with the story of our nation’s history, and the other giving a broad overview of world history. By far the best New Zealand history book we’ve come across.

Le Quesnoy – Glyn Harper

Le Quesnoy

Le Quesnoy is a town in northern France that was occupied during World War II by the Germans.  After 4 years, New Zealand soldiers liberated the town without a single loss of civilian life.  The story is told through the eyes of a child. 

Tarore and Her Book – Joy Cowley


The true story of a Maori girl named Tarore who was tragically killed, and the subsequent aftermath of her death on the spreading of the gospel in New Zealand.  A powerful story of how the Maori people heard the gospel through one copy of the gospel of Luke, and how they become evangelists to their own people.

Taratoa and the Code of Conduct – Debbie McCauley


During the Land Wars of the 1860s in New Zealand, Henare Taratoa wrote a Code of Conduct before the Battle of Gate Pa at Pukehinahina (29 April 1864). This beautifully written bilingual book records the extraordinary story of compassion by Maori on the battlefield towards the defeated British.

Gallipoli – Kerry Greenwood and Annie White


A story of two friends, Bluey and Dusty, who fought together at Gallipoli after landing on the beach on 25 April 1915. The story recounts this part of the Great War with a moving narrative that includes historical references and events that paints a realistic introduction to war for elementary-aged children.

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – Philippa Werry

Anzac Day

A non-fiction book on Gallipoli, on the history and meaning behind Anzac Day. The Four Chapters cover the Gallipoli Campaign, New Zealand at War, Remembering our War Dead, and Anzac Day, plus websites, further reading, and things to do.

So those are the best I’ve found so far – let me know if you’ve come across any treasures in your history hunting as well.


“A new dictionary will need to be compiled after the Great War.
For new words are among the things that have been born of this war. And the greatest of them all is Anzac.”

– Sydney Morning Herald 26 April 1918

Best ‘Ancient’ and ‘Middle Ages’ Historical Reads {Elementary Level}

Best Ancient and Middle Ages Reads

History is by far our favourite subject, and I’m always on the look-out for great titles to add to our homeschool library. We are working our way through Ancient History at the moment, and gearing up to study the Middle Ages in a few months time.

This list below has some historical fiction, and I’ve also included titles where the historical setting paints a wonderful picture of what life was like during that time period. I’ve also included some really great biographies.

If you click on the link, you will likely find the approximate age level and also some reviews on the content itself. I haven’t read all of these books myself, but have read reviews online to determine whether they meet the ‘living book’ criteria for our family. I’m fairly confident they are good picks, but make sure you read reviews to determine if they’re the right fit for your family. Many of these will be on the next round of our 4-year history cycle, particularly those that have philosophies and worldviews that are much different from our own.

Ancient (5000BC to 400 AD)



The Middle Ages (400-1600)



I hope you find some great reads here.  If you’re about to take a break from school for the summer, you might just be able to inspire your elementary aged children to keep learning through the break. 😉

If I’ve missed any great titles, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.




Magazines for the Whole Family

Magazines for the whole family

Here are a handful of my favourite magazines for some whole family reading.  I love to sit down in the quiet with a magazine and flick through short articles on all kinds of different things.  It’s definitely one of my favourite ways to re-charge.


Seasons at Home

This is a great read that seeks to minister to homemakers and their families by providing encouragement for mothers, homemaking tips, DIY projects, homeschooling, recipes, crafts and more.

From Scratch

From-Scratch-April-May-2014-CoverWeb‘From Scratch’ is a free bi-monthly online magazine for the modern homesteader and for living life simply.  You’ll pick up heaps of great ideas for your home on gardening, food, DIY projects, homemade products and more.



Creation scienceAnswers is the Creation Science magazine published by ‘Answers in Genesis’, and reaches 200,000 homes each quarter.  It’s packed full of relevant articles on the latest creation science news while also having an apologetics and theological perspective through which to understand culture.  While I don’t share all of Ken Ham’s theology in its entirety, I so appreciate the solid science and his dedication to defending a creation science worldview through the written word.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

TOSThe Old Schoolhouse Magazine is a free online magazine by The Old Schoolhouse that is packed full of homeschool encouragement and resources.   Read my review here.  They also publish a print version, which for 2014 has over 300 pages of homeschool goodness. I have a copy in my hands which I’m still not finished.  This edition features Deborah Wuehler, Todd Wilson, Heidi St. John, Andrew Pudewa and many other homeschool greats, including my talented online friend Bonnie Rose Hudson who is completely fantastic.

Nature Friend

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Nature Friend is a creation-based children’s nature magazine for the whole family to enjoy.  There is opportunity for your children to submit different contributions as well.  This is one we haven’t gotten ourselves yet but plan to at some stage in future.


Voice of the Martyrs

We have joined the mailing list for the NZ branch of ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ and they send out a magazine a few times a year with the latest news and ways to partner with this mission.  I wholeheartedly recommend supporting their ministry if you have a heart for the oppressed and persecuted.  Visit the US website or NZ website for more information.



Relevant is another magazine that I haven’t physically had in my hands yet but I’ve been enjoyed the articles online for some time, plus some of the worship sessions that have been recorded by Relevant.  The magazine is targeted at the 20 and 30-something age group, and covers topics of ‘faith, culture and intentional living’.  The digital magazine is free to view, and the print version is a very small $6 for 6 months.


Answers for Kids


Answers for Kids is the children’s magazine from Answers in Genesis, and contains just 8 pages that fold out, with a theme each time that fills the pages.

God’s World News

gwnews24We subscribed to this super magazine last year and even with the international postage it’s still incredible value for a monthly magazine for each of my children.  The different editions cater for different age groups, and cover the same content but age appropriately.  This is definitely one of our favourite homeschool resources.

** Update on ‘God’s World News’ – the magazine have decided to halve the number of print editions per year from 10 down to 5, and in the month’s between your child will receive an e-mail instead.  There are less print edition options also.  The cost remains the same.  In my opinion, this is no longer the fantastic value that was offered before so I no longer recommend it, but you might still decide it’s worth it for your family.  **

Do you have any favourites?


Favourite Homeschool Curriculum for Elementary Ages

Favourite Homeschool Curriculum pin

In our 5 years homeschooling, we have used a number of approaches and curriculum options. In the beginning, I went for a complete package in its entirety from Sonlight. But over the years, I’ve customised more and more, as I’ve gotten to know each of my children more, I’ve found my own rhythm in managing our little home school, and I’ve also continued to evaluate and prioritise our learning goals as a family.

The following are my favourite curriculum choices, some of which we’ve yet to purchase and others that we regularly use. I’ve also included some that we won’t be using anytime soon, but I still consider them great choices.

I’ve spent many hours over the years researching and looking for the best fit for our family, so I hope my searching benefits your family also.


Story of the World (4 volumes) –is written by a Christian author (although not a Christian curriculum) and takes a chronological approach to presenting the history of the world. The volumes progress in difficulty, and it is intended you start with the first volume and work your way through the subsequent volumes in chronological order (which is the Classical approach to history). We love the narrative style, and the accompanying student workbook has just the right variety and amount of work and activities to bring history alive and help with your child retaining what they have learned.

SOTW Vol 2

Mystery of History – is a chronological and Christian text of complete world history, also four volumes, and weaves world history and bible history together into a complete story. It is also Classical in style, and seeks to tell the story of God as revealed through history.

M of H Vol 1

Homeschool in the Woods – is by far our favourite place to purchase complete lap books/project packs (on CD or downloaded), and are comprehensive enough to use on their own, or to supplement other history programs. The products range from composer and artist packs, world history, US history, and incredible timeline resources. I strongly encourage you to take a look at the samples and consider adding these incredible resources to your homeschool.

HITW Old Testament (3) sm


WinterPromise – have a number of themed programs (amongst other subjects), and also some smaller downloadable studies on their sister site, Spirited Autumn Hope. The one I want to mention is Children Around the World, which has a unique way of understanding geography through looking at how children of the world live. It is more than just a geography-based program, and includes activities and learning ideas, timeline activities, and a Prayer and Personal Involvement Journal that encourages your child into faith and action.


Geography Songs: Sing Around the World – has the countries of the world set to some catchy music to learn them, with an accompanying book and markable world map. This is still a favourite of ours.

Geography Songs

Globalmania – is a free downloadable course to learn the countries, capitals, major cities, mountains, rivers, and more. It is a full-year curriculum, designed to be completed in 7 months, and utilises online games and activities as part of reinforcing what your child learns.



Apologia ‘Who is God series’ – this has been our favourite discipleship resource so far. This series gives a solid scriptural foundation to the Christian faith, using real life illustrations and a student workbook, and achieves exactly what it sets out to do. Because of our values and theological emphasis, we still add in other resources to give a balanced approach to our discipleship program.

Who is God

Homeschool in the Woods – Also mentioned above under history, Homeschool in the Woods do Old Testament and New Testament Activity Packs which are a fantastic hands-on learning experience, with great content as well.

HITW Old Testament (5) sm

What’s in the Bible DVDs – From the Creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer has put together these fantastic DVDs that introduce children to every book of the bible. The content is comprehensive but not too overwhelming for children. We just love these!

Whats in the bible

ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS (including Spelling)

Writing with Easethis has been one of our mainstays since the beginning, and we love the living and ‘whole’ literature passages chosen to learn comprehensive, narration, dictation and copywork.

Writing with Ease

Handwriting Without Tearsanother mainstay in our home, I now have two very different learners loving these books and asking to do them. These books teach handwriting from Pre-K through to 5th Grade, both manuscript and cursive, and early on children use a slate board, playdough, wooden pieces, music, and other multi-sensory methods of learning their letters.


All About Spellingour favourite spelling program, All About Spelling uses the phonics method and also a multi-sensory approach to learning spelling (tiles, writing, and colour-coded flash cards, and phonograms CD-Rom or app). It never feels like work for us, and it’s one of the favoured subjects in our house to learn because it’s so hands-on and the results are evident immediately.


Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonswe’ve just started this bumper book with my pre-schooler, who loves the time with me and loves to run her finger across the line. It is so detailed that you only have to read what’s there (although I find a cut a few corners). So far, this little experiment is working well!

Teach your child to read


Math-U-Seewe have stuck with this program simply because it covers everything so well (using the mastery approach) and comes highly recommended from all my favourite curriculum sites. It has a teaching DVD, teacher’s manual, and student workbook. It’s my eldest child’s least favourite subject and I’m not sure if any maths program would achieve a different result – she’d much rather be doing something arty or reading! For now, I’m confident that it will be our choice of program and cover all the bases we need.


Life of Fredcurrently on our wishlist, the Life of Fred series is written by a retired maths teacher who wanted to bring maths alive to children through the story of a genius child named Fred. Some parents use them as standalone maths curriculum, but based on reviews I’ve read, we’ve going to use these to supplement our current program. It is recommended to go through the entire series from the start, even if your child is at a higher level. I’ll keep you posted on what we think of these once they’re in our hands.

Life of Fred


Apologia Young Explorers SeriesWe are in our third year of using these books and are continually impressed by how great the content is, and how much our children enjoy using them. They are written from a creation science perspective, and take an immersion approach to science, focusing on one subject in depth for the course of the year (eg. astronomy, zoology). The Notebooking Journals are optional, but in my opinion they make it into a ‘whole’ curriculum for the year.

Apologia Young Explorers


See the Lightthis is a hands-on, art technique DVD series, teaching the basics, blending, proportion, texture, and much more. The CDs can be purchased individually or as a complete set.

see the light

Artistic Pursuits – we love this approach to learning art, through art history, art appreciation and hands-on skills. We have sometimes jumped around with the lessons, if there is one that particular week that goes along with our history (eg. Greek pottery). A little pricey, but a really unique and beautiful resource.

That’s about all I have space for in this post – if we’re talking curriculum I could go on for a while! Please let me know your favourite curriculum and resources – I’m an open book!

Artistic Pursuits


PS.  Here’s a full run-down of what we are using for the 2014 year (January-December)

Our 2014 Curriculum sm

Read some of the other Favourite Curriculum Choices of the TOS Crew:
curriculum-choicesThis post uses some affiliate links.

Heroes and Heroines of the Past – American History Curriculum {Review}

Heroes and Heroines pinDigital ‘Heroes and Heroines of the Past’: American History Curriculum is a 30-week curriculum by Golden Prairie Press covering American History from the year 1000 to the present, and is geared towards 1st to 6th Graders (ages 6-11) .

Self-taught historian and author Amy Puetz is a homeschool graduate and has a contagious love for history. She has written a number of history books and loves to bring history alive for Christian families, particularly in ways that highlight role models in history past.

I had the opportunity these past few weeks to use and review the digital download version of ‘Heroes and Heroines of the Past: An American History Curriculum’. We haven’t studied American History before, so I loved that this was a complete package, and that it also covered the time period from the earliest people to the present.

Aged paper with homemade quill and berry ink.  My daughter wanted to write the first paragraph of 'Dixie'.

Aged paper with homemade quill and berry ink. My daughter wanted to write the first paragraph of ‘Dixie’.

What it Contains

The digital download product contains the following components:

  • Heroes and Heroines of the PastPart One (1000-1837) – 388 pages
  • Heroes and Heroines of the PastPart Two (1837-present) – 408 pages
  • Historical Skits E-Book – a 50 page book containing 19 plays to perform
  • Additional Materials – a collection of supplementary materials
  • Listen to some history – an audio collection of speeches, poems and sermons
  • Sing some history – listen and learn some of the songs mentioned in the two main e-books

There are optional literature books (sold separately), and most the supplies needed you will most likely have. Previewing the upcoming activities will ensure you are prepared for anything else. We used our existing timeline book, but there is also a printable timeline if you don’t already have one.

The ‘Additional Materials’ also contain colouring pages, videos, historical artwork and more that is designed to supplement the main reading text.

Historical art writing exercise.

Historical art writing exercise.

How the Lessons are Structured

Most lessons have two sections containing the same information but for two levels. The first section is for 1st-2nd Grades with approximately a page of easier-to-read text and larger font. The second section is for 3rd to 6th which has more detail.

At the end of each lesson, there are a number of questions to see what your child has retained, and some different activities each lesson such as writing topics, geography and maps related to that lesson, historical art (with questions), models to construct, and skits to perform. There are prompts in the main text as to when the ‘Additional Materials’ CD contains further resources to enhance the lesson’s reading.

Viking long boat made from playdough

Viking long boat made from playdough

How We Used It

The lessons took on average between 20m and an hour, depending on what additional activities we completed after the reading. Usually I sat my daughter in front of the computer and she read herself, other days I read to her so we could be involved together.

We supplemented with some history books we already own on the period of discovery, but these are not necessary. We just love to sit and read together and take whatever opportunity we can to delve a little deeper.

Columbus Coat of Arms

Columbus Coat of Arms

My Thoughts on the Curriculum

There is no doubt that the content is thorough, well-written, pitched perfectly for the age range, and a fantastic introduction for us to American history. For such a wide span of history, Amy has done a superb job of highlighting the best of history, and choosing key characters and events to give an overview of American history. The inclusion of scriptures to memorise, examining historical art, extra activities such as cooking and making models, plus the variety of different audios to listen to, gives the feeling of a ‘whole’ history learning experience that will appeal to all styles of learning.  I especially loved the illustrations.

I read both the main e-books through and found the writing style engaging and enjoyable, even as an adult, and looked forward to discovering the continuing story as I read each lesson.

Aztec writing

Aztec writing

Download vs Physical Product

We really love to sit down cuddled up and read history aloud together. Reading from a screen isn’t quite the same as sitting in close on the couch with book in hand. So I tended towards letting my daughter sit in front of the computer by herself and learn independently, which meant we didn’t enjoy the learning experience together quite the same as we would if we were huddled together closely on the couch, with the little ones at our feet with their own activities.

Granted, this is purely just our family’s preference, and you may find in the digital age that you are happy with downloading to your device and just as free to have a ‘normal’ reading experience from a screen. I only mention it as part of our experience.

Sorting seeds from cotton

Sorting seeds from cotton

A Word on Worldviews

History is written from many perspectives, and every author brings their own worldview to the writing. Being outside of an American worldview, I noticed in the course of reading some differences in the re-telling that stood out as different from my own worldview (which is that of a New Zealander with European heritage).

I note this not to point out shortcomings in a very well-written curriculum, but rather to make you aware that as your child works their way through the reading, you might want to bring your own guidance to tailor your learning accordingly. This means you’ll have to preview it yourself! This is a good idea to do with any history you introduce to your young children, as authors will paint a picture with only what they have in their ‘toolbox’ so to speak!

At times I noticed the American-centred emphasis and worldview quite obviously coming through, with the narration of history being told from this perspective. I also found sometimes the English people were painted as less noble or impressive than other nations of the time. For certain, some Englishmen in history have made some bad choices, but the achievements and admirable things (such as the spreading of the gospel) were downplayed or omitted in favour of noting inconsequential things such as: “The French got along very well with the natives. They did not cut down forests as the English did” (p43). Or this: “England did not want Spain to get all the glory and treasures of the newly discovered land, so in 1497, King Henry VII hired a Genoese sailor named John Cabot to explore the western ocean” (p27) – this is more of an interpretation than historical fact. They are subtle points, but are there nonetheless.

Here are a few more examples:

  • The text read: ‘…Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America’ (p22) despite the fact that there were already people living in America so it had already been discovered – just not by white men.
  • The re-telling of the Spanish Armada in 1588 gave the perspective of English pirates plundering the Spanish ships as the reason for this battle, but made no mention of the religious background to this scene which I believe is fundamentally tied to the reason for the battle; ie. Catholic Spain wanted to rid England of the Protestant religion, continuing the conflict from when Philip II of Spain and his wife Queen Mary I of England, both devout Catholics, sought to bring Catholicism back into England (30 years previously).  The Spanish initiated war on England but it had been brewing for many years.
  • One of the study questions reads: “Why is individual ownership of land better than communal living?” (p70), which assumes upfront that this is a fact, rather than asking the student to consider the benefits in both or setting a context as to why individual ownership was better at this time and situation.

I realise this might sound nip-picky of me, or that I’m putting an unnecessary expectation or standard on an elementary history curriculum, so let me say it like this – when lots of minor inferences and interpretations in the text get put together, they start to paint an impression in the mind of the reader, and that’s what I found happening here at times.

But let me say again, the worldview differences don’t take away from the overall re-telling of this enjoyable read on 1000 years of American History. As your child matures they will enjoy many different accounts of history, sometimes conflicting and sometimes simply different angles and emphasis of the same historical facts. I encourage you to have these discussions with your children as you study history, and read other accounts of the same time period to discover how people record and retell events and people.

I definitely recommend this as a fantastic all-in-one resource package on American History, and you’ll find yourself swept up in the narrative as you read, and no doubt you’ll find yourself wanting to go off on rabbit trails and learn more about the different aspects that leave an impression on your children.

"Mexican" Hot Cocoa

“Mexican” Hot Cocoa

Pricing and Links

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Maestro Classics {A Review}

Maestro Classics review

Maestro Classics is a company that produces ‘Stories in Music’, a series of CDs that introduce children, ages 5-12, to classical music through stories.  The stories are engaging and educational and the music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which Maestro Classics claims as being the ‘greatest recording orchestra in the world’.

The production and quality of these CD’s speak for themselves and they have previously won over 50 awards from top children’s reviewers.  The music is composed and conducted by Stephen Simon, and the stories narrated by Yadu (Dr Konrad Czynski).

About the Product

I had the opportunity to review the digital download versions of ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’, and ‘My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music’.

Each CD (or MP3 download) has narration set to classical music, and other listening selections, designed to give your child a love for classical music and story-telling.  Maestro Classics write these three benefits of listening to stories in classical music, and I wholeheartedly agree:

  • Expand listening horizons;
  • Develop listening skills and accumulate musical memories;
  • Encourage adults and children to listen to music together.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (duration 51:14 minutes)

Mike Mulligan

‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’ is a timeless classic by Virginia Lee Burton.  The story of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel MaryAnne is beautifully set to an orchestra and Irish pipes, with music composed and conducted by Maestro Classics own Stephen Simon.

Other selections in this include learning about the author Virginia Lee Burton, and how a composer creates a musical score.  After listening to how the music was composed, we listened again to identity and listen closely to the different instruments and sounds.  There is also a song to learn and sing along to.

The CD and download version also contains a24-page activity book with biographies, the words to the sing-along song, sheet music to the ‘Mike Mulligan’ song, information on the Irish pipes, and puzzles for children to do.

This CD/download is recommended for ages 4+.

My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music (duration 48:45 minutes)

My Name is Handel image

‘My Name is Handel’ is dedicated to the life of composer George Frideric Handel, with excerpts from his biography woven through some of his most famous pieces of music, ‘Water Music’ and ‘The Messiah’.

The narrator tells the story of German composer Handel who, while living in London, composed a suite of dances, hired a boat and musicians, and headed down the Thames River to surprise King George I.   The music became known as “Water Music,” one of Handel’s best-loved compositions. This section of the CD forms the largest component, at 38:09 minutes, with the remainder including short selections on the story and a sing-along song.

The CD and download version also contains a 24-page activity book with a biography of Handel, the history of the harpsichord and organ, words to the song, puzzles for children to do ,and other historical information.

This CD/download is recommended for ages 7+.

Who Would Enjoy ‘Maestro Classics’

Maestro classics selection 1

Classical music is well-documented and widely understood to be a significant tool for stimulating brain development.  Maestro Classics provide an entertaining and educational way of bringing the life in classical music into your home, perfectly coupled with story-telling.

If you are looking to bring opportunities into your homeschooling to develop musical appreciation through classical music and story-telling, this is by far the best resource I’ve come across to introduce and cultivate a love for both.

We listened a number of times as a family, and found that our younger children were not as interested at this stage (under 5) as they lacked the ability to sit still and listen for more than a few minutes.  My 8 year old however, enjoyed both these downloads.  So the suggested ages for both were our experience also!

Supplementary Material

Maestro Classics have also put together a well-thought out list of free Curriculum Guide’s to accompany each of the CD’s, with learning ideas for all subject areas: History, Science, Geography, Language Arts, Art, Music, and Math.

They also link up accompanying lapbooks which I’d like to try, sold by ‘A Journey Through Learning’, which you can find on their website under Educational Materials.

Pricing and Further Information

Pricing is as follows:

For further information, visit:

Don’t forget to look at the other great titles available – we are already looking at ‘Swan Lake’ as our next favourite. 🙂

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How We Use ‘Story of the World’ in our Christian Home

how we use SOTW in our Christian home

One of the challenges of studying Ancient History as a Christian family, is that there is a lot of aspects in this period of history that are not of a Christian or even a moral worldview, such as worship of gods, gladiators, violence, and a lack of mercy and value for human life.

I’m glad we waited until my daughter was 8 to look into Ancient History, as she now has some firm foundations and we can now look at history through that lens.  I wouldn’t recommend starting much younger with this particular text unless you have really covered the foundations of your faith and you are also willing to put some effort into bringing a Christian worldview and perspective into your study of ancient history.

Is using ‘Story of the World’ right for you?

As I contemplated whether ‘Story of the World’ was going to be the right text for us, I realised that history has happened, with all its triumphs and tragedies, greatness and despair, achievement and loss, the good the wonderful and the very ugly, and I can’t just not teach history because of the ugly stuff.

I want my children to have an understanding of history from the very beginning through to present day, where they can see the hand of God moving through His people, bringing life and redemption, and also what happens when people go their own way and depart from living in relationship with God and in harmony with His created world.

‘Story of the World’ is not a Christian curriculum, although written by a Christian author, but the text does not set out to bring you back to the Truth.  What it does is report and present history in a factual yet narrative form, and does not comment on it as such.  So it’s up to you as the homeschooling parent to guide your children’s hearts and use it as a learning opportunity.

How we Approach Studying History

Here’s the basic approach we take in our history studies using ‘Story of the World’:

  • The Bible is the only book that is true.  The Word of God is foundational to how we see and understand the world.  I try and weave scriptures through our studies, and always bring us back to what is true.
  • We look at each chapter and I will often stop and pause during the reading to clarify things, or we might discuss how people were living that was contrary to God’s law (eg. Hammurabi’s law of ‘an eye for an eye’ versus what Jesus taught).
  • We talk about how even in the Old Testament we see that only a single generation might have passed since God delivered His people, yet still the Israelites lost their way again, time and time again.  How much more does this happen when a people group continue for generations without any knowledge of a living God?
  • We discuss consequences, moral law, grace, mercy (or lack of), and whatever else comes up that I can bring us back to foundational truths.
  • We supplement using various books and activities that reinforce our Christian worldview.
  • There are certain parts we read in the text, do minimal activities such as mapping and writing, but don’t focus on.  Parental discernment is a important factor in deciding what gets focused on and what gets little attention.  I have a sensitive daughter – your boisterous boys might enjoy parts that we gloss over.  🙂
  • I repeat often that the ancient world was the time period that the bible was written in.  Particularly with the New Testament, we talk about the Greek and Roman cultural world, and the world in which Jesus came when He came to ‘seek and save the lost’.  We talk about who (and what issues) Paul and others were addressing in their letters to the Early Church.

how we use SOTW - bread making

I foresee that other volumes will present their own challenges also.

Volume Two will give us a wonderful opportunity to study early Irish history, the Renaissance, the age of exploration and discovery and the Elizabethan Age.  This period also has some great poverty and sickness, the plague and the Great Fire of London, ongoing wars between European countries, Mary I and her slaughtering of Protestants, and some of the worse methods of torture and death during the medieval period.

Once again, parental discernment and some planning will help you navigate your way through what you focus on or gloss over, and how you bring your children back to the foundations of their faith.

So there are a few things to get you thinking about as you study this time period, and others, in your Christian family.

I see the opportunity to present history from a factual perspective (as much as is possible when every writer has a worldview they write from), and in doing so, I can introduce my children to some of the things that have happened in history but via the lens of our Christian worldview.

If you’re also of a Christian worldview and are using Story of the World, I would welcome your thoughts and ideas on how you make it work in your home.

You might also be interested in:

“Mix It Up May” – taking a break from our regular curriculum

MIx it up May

We’re almost halfway through our school year, and although we love the curriculum we’ve chosen for the year and have no plans to change anything permanently, I thought we’d take about a month to do some different things.

The last thing I want is for our learning to become monotonous and dull.  Before we get to that point, we’re going to side-step a bit in our main learning areas, and come back to our familiar programs a little more refreshed.

My preschoolers are happy enough with our learning times, so I’ll keep our current hands-on approach with them.  It’s fairly simple at their ages.  I’ve also started ‘Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’ with my almost 5 year old, and am finding it really fantastic so far (it’s only about $12 for a bumper book of 395 pages – great value too)

My oldest child is 8 ½, and it’s her program of learning that we’re mixing up a bit for the month.  Some of these things we’ve already begun at the time of writing.

Our Plan for May


Instead of Story of the World (Ancient History), we’re going to focus on these areas of history:


We normally use Writing with Ease and All About Spelling, but for May will look at only using ‘Story Starters’ for some creative writing.  My daughter already does enough copywork practice daily with her Handwriting Without Tears.  I’m also going to encourage her to write in her journal each day, and we’ll be keeping up with the writing in ‘Who is God’ and her nature journal.


We’re currently doing Math-U-See and I like the confidence it gives me that everything is covered very thoroughly.  Maths is not our happiest subject, and I’m not sure that any different curriculum would produce better results where that is concerned.

The left-brained vs right-brained theory asserts that some people are more dominantly creative (right-brained) or dominantly left-brained (analytical).  Scientists don’t all agree that the notion actually exists (I did a test for fun – I was equal!).  Whether the theory stacks up scientifically or not, I’ve certainly noticed that my 8 ½ year old finds areas of learning that have a creative and artistic component much easier than those that are more logical and methodical.  Even a word search can be an unhappy experience.

Her struggle with Maths isn’t so much her lack of natural ability as much as it’s the discipline of working through something methodically, and sometimes it’s also the time it takes to do it.

Instead of trying to make Maths more creative this time, I’m going to try and work on strengthening the areas she’s weaker in.  Here’s my plan for this month (and maybe beyond):

  • Critical Thinking Activities, book 1 and book 2 (K-3, and 4-6) – to use the left side of her brain more.
  • SchoolhouseTeachers.com – has a variety of short videos, including some applied maths, which I think will give my daughter a different way of seeing things.  There are also elementary maths lessons listed by grade that we will revisit for some revision.  Sometimes it helps to have a different teacher or method to explain the same concepts.  I’m hopeful this will be effective!
  • Yahtzee and card games.
  • Xtra Math – a free online resource for addition and subtraction practice.


We’ve just finished Apologia Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures), so before we launch into Zoology 2 (Swimming Creatures), I’d like to review what we’ve done.  We’ll do this by doing a Flying Creatures lapbook, and going through our Notebooking Journal and tidying up any loose ends we didn’t finish.

We also still have a Supercharged Science subscription, so will look at some of the other experiments at my daughter’s grade level.

Fine Arts

We have yet to purchase all the books on our wishlist, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get these on our bookshelf soon!  Here are my favourites:

We have Maestro Classics downloads that are new into our hands (‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’, and ‘My Name is Handel’), so we’ll keep enjoying those and I’ll have a review coming to let you know what I think of them!

As for art, we rarely have to be very intentional about doing enough of this as it’s one of our most favourite learning times.  I’ll most likely make use of the ideas I’ve filed away on Pinterest, and until we can purchase ‘See the Light’, we’ll keep finding creative ways to develop new skills and enjoy ourselves.  Schoolhouseteachers.com also has some Art Technique Lessons we might do (by Brenda Ellis from ARTistic Pursuits).

If you’ve tried mixing things up halfway through your school year, I would love to hear some things you’ve tried.

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