Fun-Time Phonics! – A Review


For my last project for the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, our family was given the opportunity to review Fun-Time Phonics!, a systematic phonics and comprehension reading program by The Critical Thinking Co. It is a 320-page book for grades K-2, full of colorful pages that help children learn to read in a fun way.


This program ensures complete phonemic awareness mastery because it focuses on vowel isolation – their individual sounds. Before a student can become a proficient reader, this very basic and important piece must be mastered. Because my daughter has recently been diagnosed with Dyslexia, I was excited about trying this fun curriculum with her. She specifically struggles with phonemic awareness/vowel isolation, so this was the perfect type of stimulating program to try with her. The emphasis of Fun-Time Phonics! is on patterns, not rule memorization.

Here is a listing of the components and strategies that are extremely effective with all levels of readers:

  • Builds from students’ natural speaking abilities, developing their auditory awareness of vowel sounds;
  • Incorporates multisensory instruction for introducing the alphabet and short vowels;
  • Provides cognitively-engaging connected text for practice;
  • Utilizes co-articulation to introduce consonant sounds, eliminating traditional stumbling blocks and ensuring a successful reading start;
  • Involves multiple regions of the brain – analytical as well as artistic and language-providing various pathways to long-term memory and automatic word recall.

Fun-Time Phonics! is literally an open-and-go program. You sit down with your student, open the book, and easily teach the concepts without any prep work at all. Since we are no longer homeschooling, it is helpful to have a curriculum like this that we can add to our homework routine in the afternoons. It’s not just a supplement, however. Despite its simple, easy-to-use design, it is still a very comprehensive program.

Here is the Table of Contents:

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Here are a couple of sample pages:

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So what do we think of Fun-Time Phonics!?

We love Fun-Time Phonics! Katherine evens smiles at the cute pictures and enjoys the format, which changes things up and doesn’t give her the same routine-based learning everyday. If you have a struggling reader, or an early reader that you want to get started on the right foot, I highly recommend this wonderful, reasonably priced curriculum. The 320-page paperback book is only $39.99 and they are getting ready to introduce a Windows-based program that will only be $19.99.

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Reading Kingdom – A Review


As part of the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, our family was given the opportunity to review Reading Kingdom Online, a complete computer-based reading curriculum for ages 4-10 by Reading Kingdom. This program is fun and colorful, and teaches children to read and write up to a 3rd grade level.

According to the Department of Education, 2 out of 3 children fail to become proficient readers. Reading Kingdom has taken a step to help children enjoy learning to read through their beautifully-designed interface. 

This program is also specially designed to work well for children who have been diagnosed with various learning disabilities. Children with Dyslexia, ADD, and Autism thrive in this learning environment. The visual stimulation improves their ability to retain information as they learn it.

Reading Kingdom Online is broken up into these segments:

  • Sequencing – the process that allows us to read the same letter combinations as different words by changing their order;
  • Writing – using the keyboard to physically type in the spelling of words;
  • Sounds – phonics, creating words from sounds/sets of letters;
  • Meaning – developing an understanding what words mean in their contexts;
  • Grammar – how words and phrases go together in the English language;
  • Comprehension – developing a complete understanding of what the kids read.

Benefits of using this program are:

  • Research based and incredibly effective.
  • The program adapts to every child and provides individualized instruction.
  • Kids can use the program on their own.
  • It’s fun so children think they’re playing a game and want to use it.
  • It was created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world’s top experts in reading.
  • It works as a standalone curriculum or a supple-ment.
  • Works on any device with an internet connection (including Windows, Mac, iPad, Android, Chromebooks, etc.)

Here are a few screen shots of how the program works:

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You can watch a video explaining the entire program here: Six Skill Integrated Method. You can also download sample lessons here: Reading Kingdom Sample Lessons. You can get a 30-day trial here: Reading Kingdom Online Trial.

After your 30-day trial, the pricing is very reasonable. It’s only $19.99 per month per student, BUT if you go ahead and purchase without doing the trial the price is only $14.99 per month per student. Each additional student is $9.99 per month (or $7.49 if you skip the trial).

So what do we think of Reading Kingdom Online?

This is a very comprehensive online program for young and struggling readers. All children ages 4-10 will probably enjoy this format, but it is specifically helpful if you have children who have been diagnosed with Dyslexia, ADD, or Autism. It’s so hard to keep kids focused at this age; but this visually stimulating, highly interactive program will keep them entertained and learning. Make sure to check out the resources, testimonials, and tons of other information on Reading Kingdom’s website.

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Review of Middlebury Interactive Languages

As part of the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, our family was given the opportunity to review a semester of Elementary Spanish 1: Grades K-2, a completely online curriculum by Middlebury Interactive Languages. This program is very fun and interactive, and geared to younger students. Each unit takes a story from Spanish culture and uses various types of games and activities to help students learn the language AND the culture at the same time.

Each unit is broken into several lessons, and there is a lot of review of the small pieces of information that are given. It is definitely not overwhelming for young students, but instead helps them to really grasp phrases before moving on. The curriculum also includes quizzes and tests that help them see how much they are learning along the way.

As someone who learned sign language while immersed in Deaf culture, I know the value of being “thrown in” to the culture in order to learn. In the old days, we learned Spanish by copying words, repeating after the teacher, and we never used many visually stimulating and immersive techniques. Needless to say, I don’t remember a lot about Spanish. However, while in college, I became fluent in sign language by being thrown in and having to learn the language to survive. This curriculum reminds me of that (in as much as an online program can do that). The students watch and listen to stories in Spanish. While focusing on certain phrases, they pick up other words/phrases through context clues and pictures. It is awesome!

Here are a few screen shots of how the program works:

Here the students listen to the numbers 1-10 in Spanish as they click on fishbowls: 
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Here the students click on each family member, which changes them from black and white to color. As they click, they hear the family members’ titles in Spanish (mother, father, sister, brother, etc.):
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Here the students drag and drop the number words into the pictures that match:Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 10.27.07 AM

This is the Speaking Lab. Here the students record themselves saying the phrases, then listens back to see how closely they pronounced the words to the examples:Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 10.29.38 AM

Here is a shot of the welcome screen, along with the table of contents:Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 10.55.48 AM

As you can see, the students learn Spanish vocabulary for greetings, numbers, family, colors, school, the body, animals, calendar, food, and descriptions. It is a very comprehensive (yet again… not overwhelming) program for young learners. Even an older preschooler can follow along and pick up some vocabulary and culture.

So what do we think of Middlebury Interactive Language’s Elementary Spanish: K-2?

It is awesome! If you have children ages 4-8 and are looking for a Spanish curriculum that will hold their interest, I highly recommend this curriculum. It’s so hard to keep kids at this age interested in learning things that do not come naturally, but this visually stimulating, highly interactive program will keep them entertained and learning. As the kids get older, there are other more advanced programs, so they can continue on with the same program.

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Alpha Omega Publishing – Horizons Preschool – A Review


For Joshua’s 3-year-old preschool year, we mostly used play for math, along with listening in on reading, social studies, science, and health with Katherine. We were SO excited to get to try out the Horizons Preschool Curriculum from Alpha Omega Publishing! We received the complete Preschool package for this review. This Christian curriculum teaches math, phonics, language arts, and other subjects with fun activities and games. The set includes two student workbooks (with 180 lessons), two teacher’s guides, a music CD, and a resource packet with tons of manipulatives.

Horizons Preschool is the most incredible curriculum your youngest kiddos! It’s not just workbooks… there are so many things taught through this multi-sensory program. It is a great way to introduce preschoolers to “formal” learning. There are Bible stories, science projects, arts and crafts, music, health and safety, social studies, phonics, math, and a lot of other stuff. So well-rounded, yet geared specifically for this young age!

Here are just a few things kids learn in this fun-packed year:

  • Days 1-7 of Creation and the Flood (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, light, dark, air, clouds, rocks, soil, grass, seeds, trees, fruits, vegetables, sun, weather, day, night, hour, seasons, Earth’s rotation and tilt, moon, stars, constellations, astronomy, planets, comets, meteors, fish, climate, ocean creatures, amphibians, eggs, birds, mammals, blood, circulation, brain, body parts, occupations, health, safety, music, work, rules, helpers, friends, family, reptiles, insects, man, cells, senses, bones, digestion, breathing, muscles, obedience, flood, and promises;
  • Letter recognition and sounds Aa-Zz, and alphabetical order
  • Colors and shapes
  • Fine motor skills, such as cutting, gluing, stamping, drawing, coloring, folding, tracing, painting, etc.
  • Physical activities, such as running, skipping, hopscotch, crawling, bowling, ring toss, swinging, dribbling, kicking, etc.
  • Writing name, home address, and phone number
  • Counting & simple addition

The lessons are easy-to-follow for Mom or Dad, yet filled with fun for the kids. Here are a few pictures of Joshua having fun learning his letter and numbers:

Kinesthetic learning by tracing the letters with his fingers….

IMG_4033 Working on making straight lines and matching…


More working on straight lines and counting to 3…


So what do we think of the Horizons Preschool Curriculum?

We absolutely love it! If you have a preschooler, I HIGHLY recommend that you give this program a try. It is so much fun and it’s flexible too! You can use the pieces you want to use and skip any that you don’t think will work for you guys (but there probably won’t be too many activities that you don’t want to use). The workbooks are beautifully illustrated in full-color, which helps to hold the attention of my always-moving boy. You can be sure that your preschooler will be ready for kindergarten because of the complete and well-rounded education they will receive from this curriculum. Want to see more? You can check out their scope and sequence, plus download samples on the website: Horizons Preschool. 🙂

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Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers – A Review

Funtastic%20Unit%20Studies_zpsljdy1cy8Susan Kilbride’s Fantastic Unit Studies is a website offering Science & History unit studies, along with recommendations for books and resources for homeschoolers. For this review, I was given a copy of Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, a 201-page softcover book that is full of a variety of hands-on science activities for children ages 4-13. The topics are split into two age groups, with half of the units for ages 4-7 and half of the units for ages 8-13.

The following units are geared to ages 4-7:

  • Our Senses
  • The Human Body
  • Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life
  • Animals
  • Insects and Their Kin
  • Fun with Magnets
  • Stars and Planets
  • Health
  • Beginning Plants
  • Animal Ecology

These units are for ages 8-13, and include more in-depth activities as well as tests:

  • Insects
  • Microscopes and Invisible Creatures
  • Atoms and Molecules
  • Matter
  • Chemistry Fun
  • Weather
  • Force and Motion
  • Simple Machines
  • Light and Color
  • Plants II

The units all start with a list of materials you will need to complete the study. At first, I was overwhelmed by these lists, but as I read through them, I realized that MOST of the items should be readily on-hand in most homes. Some things you’ll need to buy, but it just depends on how extensive your arts/crafts and kitchen supplies are. 🙂

After the needed materials list in each unit, you go into an introduction (sometimes), and then you are presented with several different sub-topics and activities to work through. Every unit is different. Some include more kinesthetic-type activities than others. For example, in the “Our Senses” unit, students build a Mr. Potato Head type craft, using an actual potato, toothpicks, and vegetables. This gives a good visual to help them remember where their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are. Another activity in that particular unit is to read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, asking students to call out when each of the five senses are used. The activities for the younger kids are more activity-based, lighter on the academics. The older kids explore more of the details about the WHY and the HOW of the activities.

The program is VERY self-explanatory. Other than collecting materials, there is not a lot of prep work, which can be the case in some unit study curricula.

This book is great for homeschoolers. It allows the teacher freedom to explore the topics in whatever way works best for the kids. In my opinion, it’s best suited for families who are just getting an overview of various science topics before diving into whatever areas interest is found. The activities are fun, varied, and get the kids excited about science!

If you are interested in trying out Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, check out the free Science units that Susan offers. You can download a PDF of Atoms & Molecules and/or Plants. The Table of Contents is also included in each PDF so you can get an overall picture of the studies included. Along with these free Science units, Susan also offers unit studies for History. You can look at all of her free lessons here: Free Units. On her site, you’ll also find a lot of reading resources for younger children and other resources that she recommends.

About Susan Kilbride:

Susan Kilbride is a homeschooling mother with a degree in biology.  A few years ago she noticed that many homeschooling parents are either uncomfortable teaching their children science, or just don’t have the time to do the necessary research to teach their children science.  Susan wrote Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers with these parents in mind, using the same methods that she used when teaching her own son. Since then, Susan has started the “Our America” history series–chapter books designed to teach American history by telling the stories of the people who lived it. She has also written a Kindle eBook titled “How to Teach About Electricity for Ages 8-13.”

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Homeschool Planet – A Review

Homeschool-Planet-Logo-Hi_Res%20872x_zpsirhewxf1Looking for an all-inclusive program to organize your homeschool… and your life?!?! Homeschool Planet is probably the solution for you. I searched and searched, tried different programs for keeping everything organized and simple, but Homeschool Planet is the software that I ended up using for our first homeschool year. I was also given a free year of the subscription for sharing this review for all of you. This program was created by the Homeschool Buyers Co-Op and offers a free trial, so you can make sure it’s the right fit for your family before you actually buy it.

Homeschool Planet is the most user-friendly online program I have found anywhere. It literally includes everything you will need. I’m sure I haven’t even used all of the fun features that are included… so many options. You can set up individual accounts within your profile, and the kids can even have their own logins so they can view only their assignments. Here are some of the awesome features within Homeschool Planet:

  • Different views so you can see your classes/schedule in whatever format you need, including a calendar view so you can see all calendars at once and a planner view so you can simply see everything you need to do and when.
  • Email and text message reminders to help everyone stay on schedule. Daily digest emails that can go to the whole family so everyone can see their schedule, assignments, and even their chores for the day.
  • Attendance tracking.
  • Transcript creation.
  • Compatible with Google Calendar, iCal, and other online calendars.
  • Mobile version that allows you to edit on smartphones.
  • A rescheduling helper that pops up when you log on. It reminds you to check off completed assignments and grades in a BULK format. So incredibly easy to do, so that you don’t have to go into individual kids and classes to record grades. If you haven’t completed one or more assignments, you can reschedule them or just leave them ungraded if you prefer.
  • To-Do lists, shopping lists, lesson plans with assignments, web links, notes, lesson copying, text message sending, meal plan creation, and so much more.

Here are a few sample screenshots of what it looks like to actually use Homeschool Planet:

This is a pop-up helper that offers resources and helps to get started…

Online%20Help%20Video_zpspdelzcv6This is what it looks like in calendar view…



This is planner view…


This is the “manage family” pop-up. As you can see, you can track attendance, logins, and other information for each person in the family…


There are many options for printing reports. How I used it was to print out each child’s daily schedule individually and put it at his/her desk to make sure we stayed on track through the day. I have little ones, so it was mostly for me to stay on track. 🙂 You can also print the whole group on one report, one day on a report, the week ahead on a report, etc.

Honestly, after trying others, I just don’t believe there is a better online program for keeping everything organized in a busy homeschooling mama’s life. If you’ve never checked into it, make sure you go to this page for a free trial: Homeschool Planet.

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IEW Primary Arts of Language: Reading & Writing – A Review

Because Katherine has continued to struggle with learning to read, I was excited when we got the chance to review The Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Special Needs Curriculum: Primary Arts of Language. We received the Reading Complete Package and the Writing Complete Package for this review.

At first glance, the program can seem overwhelming because of all of the pieces included. However, Jill Pike’s introduction videos walk you straight through the why, how, and what of the entire program. After watching and learning from her laid back and very calming explanations, I was no longer worried. She makes the process simple… and fun!

The Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package uses poetry, letter stories, and daily games to give a well-rounded approach to learning concepts.

Primary%20Arts%20of%20Language%20Reading%20Complete_zps2qlzypqt-2The package includes the following:

There is such a flexibility with how this program is put together. The Teacher’s Manual, Phonetic Games book, and Phonetic Farm folder are all printed materials. However, the student workbooks and readers are included on the DVD-ROM, so you can just print them off as you need them. THIS allows you the option to use them with multiple students. It’s the best of both worlds!

The Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete Package uses printing, copywork, and composition and fits right together with the Reading lessons.


This package includes:

Again, just like in the reading package, consumables are in PDF form on the DVD-ROM, so you can print out materials as you go along.

The Overall Program:

When you put the reading and writing packages together, it becomes a very holistic approach to learning the art of language. One poem is presented each week, with a different activity being implemented every day. This helps kids to really grasp the concepts in the poem, and helps them learn how to retain what they read. The games reinforce everything and make it tons of fun. The letter stories help to make sounds visual, as opposed to just learning the letters themselves. There are so many beautiful pieces to this curriculum and they all fit together like no other program I’ve seen.

What do we think of IEW’s Primary Arts of Language: Reading & Writing?

After trying MULTIPLE Language Arts/Phonics programs with Katherine, she has continued to struggle with learning to read. All of the programs we’ve tried have been good, and have had a lot of good components within them, but nothing has seemed to click with her. We tried a program similar to this one with many different pieces to it (readers, worksheets, writing, games, etc.), but it all seemed too disjunct and complicated… so I pretty much gave up on that one. PAL, however, flows together flawlessly. We also tried a program that was more simplified, but it was too boring for my artsy, visual girl. After searching (and I feel wasting time) this entire school year, I believe that IEW’s Primary Arts of Language will be the tool that finally develops her confidence. I am personally confident that she will be reading by the end of the summer. I HIGHLY recommend this program!

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Apologia Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal: A Review


Apologia Educational Ministries produces so many incredible products for homeschooling families, including science textbooks for all different levels, planners, journals, and so much more! When I was given the opportunity to review their Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal, I jumped at the chance! After all, our kiddos love to go on field trips. 😉


Apologia’s Field Trip Journal is divided into several sections:

  • Preparing for a Field Trip;
  • Student and Teacher checklists for the week before, the night before, on the way, and at the “field”;
  • Over 100 Field Trip Ideas;
  • Over 100 suggestions for studying plants, animals, Earth, space, aviation, the human body, history, government, culture, and more;
  • Places I’ve Explored Maps;
  • Three separate sections help you document the date and destination of any field trips exploring your state, the United States, and the world;
  • Field Trip Pages;
  • Specific field trip pages help you plan out your visit, document any books you’ve read about your field trip, create a “must do” list, take personal notes, tell the “Story of my day,” and record “Something I never want to forget”;
  • Special Spot Pages;
  • As I See It Pages.

This beautiful, spiral-bound journal is designed to help your student slow down and notice the fascinating changes that occur from one season to the next.  Four times a year, your student will map out a specific location to see what happens over time, recording things such as color, flowers, leaves, sights, sounds, animal clues such as track or droppings, temperature, average rainfall, and much more. It was created to help your child document thoughts using imagination to capture an experience as only he or she can see it.

Here are a few screenshots of sample pages:

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I really wish I would have known about this journal at the beginning of the school year. We would have used it at SciWorks & several other places. We talked through our trip at the Children’s Museum with it, but we could have used it so much more extensively if we had it earlier. If you and your children love field trips, or if it’s hard to get them talking about what they learned on field trips, this is a great tool to help conversation.

We were able to have a conversation about dinosaurs during (and after) our trip to the Dinosaur Exhibition at Broadway at the Beach today, so I’m thankful that the ideas presented in this Field Journal are now just a part of how the kids and I learn.

If you are looking for a notebook/journal to help your kids (and you) to learn more during field trips, I highly recommend that you take a look at Apologia’s Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal. It will help you discuss things in more detail, and will serve as a learning tool that you can keep and look back to for years to come!

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