Review of Writing Strands: Beginning 2 by Dave Marks (Master Books)

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Language Arts Curriculum

Advanced Elementary/Middle School

Recommended!

I purchased some of the older Writing Strands editions a couple years ago, and largely did not care for them; so my review of this material began from a place of skepticism and curiosity.

I am very impressed with multiple components of this resource, and am planning to use it with at least one of my kids, when he is ready.

(I’m also considering using it for myself. My undergraduate and some graduate work was in English/Linguistics, and I have always wanted to engage more on the fiction and literature side. There are some excellent takeaways from the exercises in this curriculum that I believe could aid me in creative writing.)

The essence of this curriculum:

The focus of this curriculum is on strengthening communication (including one’s attentiveness to the present environment, before articulation can occur), developing unique expression, having confidence in authorship, and guiding students to recognize and refine their own observations, stories, and writing.

The structure alternates between one week of writing, then one week of reading. Students will keep a writing folder, binder, or notebook of their work, and both student and teacher will track the student’s progress with the weekly Progress Report, and Writing Skills Mastery sheets.

On the writing side, the student begins with very simple exercises for the purpose of learning to follow directions. Then the material quickly shifts into the “real” stuff: learning to write complex sentences, completing prewriting exercises to organize one’s thoughts, and recognizing the many aspects of strong storytelling (descriptions, mood, settings, dialog, symbolism, characters, plot development, narrative voice, and so forth). Grammar is highlighted for the means of communicating, but not in and of itself.

On the reading side, students will study Scripture (prepared with questions in the curriculum), while learning to ask important contextual and literary questions, and then being able to make comparisons and find personal applications within the Word. Students will also engage with contemporary (or other non-biblical) literature in a similar matter of asking good questions about what they have read. This material is chosen by the parent/teacher (or perhaps student), and can be broken down however is preferable–a full book per week, an assigned number of chapters, an engaging article or two, etc.

Often the writing and reading lessons complement each other nicely by working on similar themes from different perspectives.

What I love about this curriculum:

  1. It is not overwhelming: it is both easy to follow the directions and get each assignment done, and is also set at a reasonable (and consistent) pace. This does not mean there is no planning required, as the parent-teacher is responsible for creating the book list, and ideally has read the books in order to facilitate the best discussion with the student. The student must also find time to read the material in advance of the classroom time (which is a healthy habit toward personal responsibility and academic achievement).

2. The structure is gentle, while progressively becoming more challenging.

3. I love the freedom and adaptability of choosing one’s one book list, and the combination of analyzing Bible passages.

4. This format provides excellent questions to develop the logical process of reading comprehension, and general attentiveness to our world, our own feelings, and consideration of others. The skills of observation and communication are very important, and not limited to academic reading and writing.

5. Students are clearly guided through the aspects of story development by doing—not just teaching. This is a practical, and hands on curriculum, that will stir the imagination.

6. I quite enjoyed the author’s candid and humorous tone throughout.

What this curriculum is not:

This is not a grammar-centered curriculum. Students are expected to understand the basic elements of grammar, and will strengthen these in practical usage. That is, they will be challenged to add words to strengthen their sentences, rewrite and restructure sentences, and consider whether a sentence aids the goals of the paragraph or story. However, students will not be asked how a particular word is functioning within the parts of speech; nor will there be any diagraming of sentences, or abstract discussions of language itself.

This is also not a curriculum for strengthening persuasive or expository writing styles, nor for research methodology and practice. While it does go beyond storytelling and creative writing, there is a creative feeling to the activities, with narration as the strong emphasis. No five-paragraph literary essays here! 😉

Grade Range:

Before beginning this curriculum, students should be able to write a 4-5 sentence paragraph, with a fundamental understanding of syntax and grammar, and be proficient in basic reading comprehension and analysis.

The inside cover suggests a wide grade range from 3rd grade through 7th grade, mentioning 4th grade as an ideal target. The official Writing Strands Placement Guide has this at 6th grade, in order to fit with the corresponding curricula. The flexibility comes from: 1) the individual level/ability of the student, and 2) the adaptability of choosing one’s own reading list. A 3rd or 4th grader could potentially feel just as at home in this curriculum as a 6th or 7th grader, by using age/level appropriate reading material, so long as the other standards are met. Moreover, each student is learning to refine his/her own writing, which is always improving. This resource does well in meeting students at their own level.

Due to the nature of the material, the student may need a bit of enthusiasm toward creative writing, the imaginative process, and/or self expression. I know one of my students will thrive with this, while other students may desire a more traditional/structured approach.

Find this resource, and explore more from Master Books here.

I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum from Master Books.

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Review of My Story 1 by Craig Froman and Andrew Froman (Master Books)

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Social Studies Curriculum

Early Elementary

Recommended!

What could be more exciting than a treasure-hunting curriculum full of stunning illustrations and photos?!

The students will go on four “quests”: Quest 1 begins with the student’s family, community, city, state, and country. Quest 2 travels around the Americas, Antarctica, and Africa. Quest 3 explores Canada, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, and Australia and Oceania. Quest 4 begins again in the USA, then goes to Greenland, Iceland, around Europe, and back “home” to the USA.

As students travel around the world, they will explore modes of transportation, cultures, languages, foods, wildlife, land features and habitats, traditions and responsibilities, weather, jobs/careers, water safety, time zones, continents, directions, and many other aspects of community, geography, and culture.

Students begin each quest with a clue card of questions to search for throughout the journey. The activities range from coloring, short answer, puzzles, copywork, oral discussion questions, vocab/spelling words, reading and drawing maps, and journaling. The curriculum is also biblically grounded, with Bible verses and stories throughout.

I most love the colorful pictures–this is a beautiful book (worth students having their own consumable copies)! I also appreciate the lighthearted adventure of learning, the age appropriateness, the strong faith element, and the honor of other cultures. Plus, everything is included within the single book (lesson plans, quizzes, answer key, etc.). And there are some great suggestions of (optional) field trips, for exploring aspects of community. I anticipate we will have a lot of fun with this!!

Level:

The worksheet sections are written for students who can write on manuscript ruled paper (K-2). Writing full sentences is not a requirement. Most questions could be answered in a single word or short statement. There is also copywork in every chapter to practice writing new words. This would be perfect for 1st-2nd grade, depending on the ability and interest of the student.

I’ll be using this with a kindergartener and a 3rd grader. The youngest will love it as is, and the writing will be a little easy for my 3rd grader, but I think he will be engaged by the subject matter.

Methodology:

We homeschool with a mix of Charlotte Mason and Classical methodologies (with Classical Conversations), and will be adding this as a supplement to CC Foundations Cycle 1 this coming year, which I expect will be a great complement considering its world-wide focus.

My Story 1 is a fun-loving curriculum, with lots of hands on exploration, and activity suggestions, which would fit well with Montessori, or other kinesthetic approaches. It has a large emphasis on oral and written narration, and story-telling, reminiscent of Charlotte Mason or other literature-based methodologies. It is also very comprehensive, without the heaviness of some Traditional programs.

Explore Master Books’ website here.

I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum from Master Books.

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Review of The World’s Story 1: The Ancients (Student Book) by Angela O’Dell

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Genre: Ancient History Curriculum/Christian Worldview

Highly Recommended!

I love everything about this curriculum. The student book is filled with photos, illustrations, and maps that are as stunning as they are helpful and informative. The lessons are engaging, without being overwhelming. And the material of the Student Book is written in an accessible narrative form that could easily be used with multiple age groups or a full-family study. I also love the narration breaks and connection points within the text, which provide helpful markers for the parent-teacher (or independently working student) to pause and reflect before moving onward.

While many textbooks covering ancient civilization include a focus on mythology, this one is awesomely biblical-centric. It more-or-less follows the biblical timeline from Creation through the Roman Empire, with an emphasis on the Hebrew people and their neighbors (Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others in between). I love the addition of apologetics and archaeology, and the emphasis on a relational/Hebraic worldview of Scripture. Every chapter goes back to Scripture in some way–even ancient cultures that are not directly tied to biblical accounts (like China, the Celts, and tribes in the Americas) have a mission-focus, and/or demonstrate humanity’s need for God in a direct manner. I really appreciate this perspective, and the way faith and Scripture are woven throughout the lessons.

My kids are going to have so much fun with this. I can’t wait for volumes 2 and 3 to be released!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

 

PS: Those interested in using this as a homeschool curriculum should consider purchasing with the corresponding Teacher’s Guide, which includes a suggested 180 day schedule, assignments (aimed at 5th-8th grade), and supplementary ideas.

You don’t have to homeschool to enjoy this! Read the Student Guide alone as an engaging devotional resource on ancient history from a biblical perspective.

Explore Master Books website here.

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Review of Answers for Homeschooling: Top 25 Questions Critics Ask by Israel Wayne

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Genre: Homeschooling/Christian Life

Recommended.

This is a great resource for Christian families considering homeschooling, who are unsure about certain aspects or capability, as well as for those actively homeschooling who don’t know how to respond to critical comments. It is written in a conversational manner, and includes references to other beneficial resources for new homeschool families.

I appreciated learning the history of homeschooling, and the great risks of many homeschool pioneers in gaining this freedom. This foundation was a great way to begin the book, as it left me with a deeper awareness and gratitude of this privilege.

I am also especially impacted by Israel Wayne’s commentary on socialization, which comes up frequently in my own experience. He lays a persuasive biblical foundation of the quality of companionship within the social experience, and the necessity of having proper relationships in place for learning to be possible. The argument of being “salt and light” in the world (public/private schools) is similarly addressed in a compelling manner.

Some sections caused me to think differently about certain aspects of homeschooling (e.g. whether or not to accept government funding–I hadn’t considered some of the negative implications). Other areas were less relevant to me (e.g. I’m not concerned about my teaching/academic capability, although many readers may find this very encouraging; and my husband and I have a system in place regarding our educational roles, which is different from the author’s suggestion, but works for us personally).

Overall, I was surprised by the helpfulness of this resource in addressing issues I would not have considered to ask, and providing new information interwoven with spiritual encouragement and a biblical precedent for homeschooling. I am more inspired than ever by our commitment to this form of schooling, and found the book freshly edifying.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

 

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Review of the 10 Minute Bible Journey by Dale Mason

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Genre: Family Devotional Bible

Highly Recommended!

I’ve been asked several times recently whether I have a favorite Bible devotional for homeschooling, and can tell that this is going to be our new favorite. It goes through the Bible from Creation to “Forever” in 52 stories of the biblical accounts, plus an additional 8 bonus sections on select topics, and a 2.5 foot fold-out timeline.

Each devotional can be realistically completed within 10 minutes (I timed myself reading a few of them, with an average of about 6 minutes each in my “mom” voice). They also include enough depth and detail to draw out into an extended conversation if preferred.

I most love: 1) the fantastic illustrations, 2) the Creationist/apologetics perspective, which even includes commentary on related issues such as the Ice Age, 3) the narrations and details within each story line (date ranges based on Ussher’s calculations, ages of characters at the times of each event, etc.) bring the accounts to life, 4) the historical chronology is thoroughly presented, even including the division of the Kingdom of Israel, 400 years of silence, and other stories that are often omitted from children’s Bibles like Isaiah’s ministry in the nude, King Josiah’s reign, and the stoning of Stephen, 5) controversial areas of theology such as the charismatic gifts, and eschatological perspectives are neutrally presented–everything follows the Bible pretty closely without adding to the story, and 6) reading the Bible itself is encouraged with a plan of daily Scripture reading, as well as footnotes for further study, and suggestions for using this devotional within a small group environment (including discussion questions).

I do have minor constructive feedback from a Messianic Jewish perspective: I do not love the word “convert” as used in the account of “The Conversion of Saul,” considering that his spiritual revelation opened him up to a born again experience, but not a new religion. He was more in line with the intentions of Judaism after recognizing Jesus as Messiah than beforehand in his legalism. Similarly, there is a negative widespread implication regarding the Pharisees. However, Paul considers himself a “Pharisee” even after becoming a Christian (Acts 23:6, Phil. 3:5), so the Pharisees are not “bad” in and of themselves, rather it was their hypocrisy and legalism that were problematic, leading them away from recognizing the Lord, rather than toward Him.

Overall, I’m very excited about this resource! You can find it at Master Books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New Leaf Publishing.

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