elementary schoolhighschoolmiddle schoolProduct Review

Exploring the U.S. Life-Saving Service- A Review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Unit studies are a perfect fit for a delight directed style of homeschooling. They give you the freedom to explore unique topics and tie in a variery of academic disciplines. We were recently given the opportunity to review Exploring the U.S. Life Saving Service 1878-1915: 17 Student Workshops with 120 Activities from Rebecca Locklear. The unit study is all about the U.S. Life Saving Service which was the forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard. Comprised of eight member rescue teams, this service would row out to ships in distress during violent storms to rescue those on board. If you have a child who is an outdoor enthusiast, loves to learn about survival skills, enjoys hiking or boating, or just loves to learn about unique pieces of history, this downloadable unit study from Rebecca Locklear is a great fit!

The study is divided into 4 units with 17 workshops:

  • Unit 1: Life at the Station House
  • Unit 2: Working Together
  • Unit 3: The Culture of Character
  • Unit 4: Relevance Today

Each worksop begins with listing the objective and the materials needed to complete the activities. It also shares grade appropriate goals (as seen below):

The book begins with a thorough look at the history of the U.S. Life Saving Service. The old pictures are fascinating. This would be an excellent unit to include in a Post-Civil War to World War 1 Unit. The book is rich with maritime history and information.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Unit Studies are fantastic for connecting the various disciplines. Just look at the variety of activities included in the Exploring the U.S. Life Saving Service book. Not only are many activities included, but many types of learning styles and interests are addressed. This book will appeal to your logical thinkers, your artists, your actors, your wiggly learners, your book learners, and everything in between. It would be really great to use at a homeschool co-op as it provides for a lot of collaborative learning. In fact, I think it may be best used in a co-op setting with multiple children. The hands-on activities include designing a logo for the U.S. Life-Saving Service, make gingerbread in a jar, performing a skit (the script is included in this curriculum), playing a game, designing and creating an anchor, making smelling salts, role playing, completing a cold water experiment, and more.

Pictured above is a matching activity included in Unit One: Life at the Station House. The activity is a game to be played after learning about how the people of the day identified and hunted for food. My kids and I read through Unit One together.

This 117 page text includes history, science, writing, cooking, art and more-all in one book geared towards grades 4-12. The author has a personal connection to the U.S. Life Saving Service in that her great-grandfather, “Skipper” Eldredge, devoted 15 years of his life to this service.

Be sure to follow Rebecca Locklear on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaLocklearWriter/

Click HERE to sign up for Rebecca Locklear’s newsletter.

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One Month Garden Check In- June 2020

Everywhere we have lived since we got married, my husband and I have attempted some sort of garden. We have had flower gardens and vegetable gardens. We have tried various containers and planters when space was limited. We’ve gotten creative in our planting. We have not always been successful, but we have learned a TON along the way.

Our garden is one of my most favorite things. I look forward to it every year. For the last few years, we have planted on the side of our house. Each year we get a little more serious. For the last couple of years, my husband has dreamed out loud about turning our backyard into a corn field. Keep in mind, we live on just under an acre of land. This year… during a moment of quarantine stir craziness, he said… “I need a project.” We had some trees growing out of control in our backyard. I suggested he put his energy into cutting back the trees. As he did, we realized how much of our yard had been hiding under this mass of trees. As we began to reclaim the yard, we made the decision to move the garden to the back yard (the whole garden… not just a corn field). We almost doubled the size of what we have done in the past.

We spent time in April prepping the soil. We had various burn piles going to get rid of all the tree limbs from the tree project. We rented a tiller and my husband churned up the soil. He added lime and fertilizer. I drew a plan of what I hoped for with the garden, adding a few items we had not tried before. We planted the garden on Mother’s Day Weekend. If you live in Western North Carolina, they say not to do your planting until after Mother’s Day Weekend. I will heed that advice from now on! We thought the cold weather was over, but wouldn’t you know… there was a light frost for the couple of nights after we planted!!! Thankfully, nothing was ruined other than a few basil leaves. I think if we had waited even a few days, we would have given our garden a better start.

A wide shot angle of the garden. From left to right: Corn, Pumpkins, Carrots, Zucchini, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Spices, Bush Beans (green and purple), Sugar Smap Peas, Peppers, and Sunflowers. We have strawberries in the bottom right corner and Raspberries on the backside of the fence to the top left.

Either way… we are one month in and the magic of gardening is evident. I just love it! You start with soil and fertilizer. You put a tiny seed into the ground and within a few days, life shoots forth. I marvel at the amazing imagination of the Lord in how he created each seed so uniquely.

Fairy Garden put together by my 8 year old and 10 year old. You can get the bird bath HERE.
The fairy came with a fairy house set. You can find it HERE.
The fairy garden door can be found HERE.
I love Day Lillies. They are one of my favorite flowers. Here is the anticipation of the bloom that will burst forth in the coming days!
Corn. He didn’t plant an entire field, but definitely dedicated a large part of the garden to corn! We have been fighting with the birds to protect our baby corn plants. They like to pull out the plant and eat the seeds.
Zucchini. I haven’t had much luck with zucchini in the past. It is always taken over by powdery mildew. I am trying a new method of staking the zuchinni this year to get the leaves up off the ground and keep the plant more contained. If I get 2 zucchini out of these plants, it will be more success than I’ve had in the past!
I transplanted my strawberries from the front of my house to the garden in the backyard. They went into shock and I thought I had killed them all!! Thankfully, after about two weeks, they revived and started flowering!
Sugar Snap Peas. We have not planted these in the past! I am so excited!!
Carnival Carrots
Our pumpkin patch. We haven’t had pumpkins in a couple of years. The last time we did it, we only got one pumpkin!!! We planted sugar pumpkins. They are supposed to be good for pies and not vine out so much in the garden.
Bush beans. We planted green beans and purple beans this year. Beans are a great plant for feeling success in your garden! Bush beans are my favorite… no trellis required.
We have had rainy days around these parts!

Do you have a garden? What are your tried and true tips?

Do you have a favorite gardening book? I got this one from a friend last year and LOVE IT! I have dog- eared almost every page:

 I am an affiliate with Amazon. If you click through and purchase through links on this blog, our family will receive a small percentage from the purchase. Thank you.

homeschool helpsProduct Review

Help Teaching Pro Subscription- A Review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. 

I create a good bit of my children’s learning materials. With our delight directed approach to learning, we are often thinking outside of the box and not using a specific curriculum or program. While I have the skill and ability to create my own worksheets, I would rather not reinvent the wheel. I was so excited to discover HelpTeaching.com. We were given the HelpTeaching Pro Subscription to review.

What is HelpTeaching?

Teacher Worksheets, Tests, Activities, Lessons, and Games for PreK-12. Printable & online resources for educators: teachers, tutors, trainers, and homeschool parents.

Help Teaching Consists of

  1. Tests and Worksheets: A library of pre-made tests and worksheets for early learning through 12th grade, covering all subjects… including AP learning material. The worksheets are aligned with Common Core.
  2. Test Maker: Can be used to create tests in a variety of formats including multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/ false, and open ended questions.
  3. Test Room: The platform can be used to administer online assessments for individuals and classrooms.
  4. Worksheet Generator: Generate your own math and game worksheets.

The website is very easy to navigate. When you log on, you’ll see menue tabs across the top labeled:

Tests and Worksheets


Test Maker

Online Testing

My Content


The “How To” Guides are easily accessed from the sidebar menu. These cover such topics as “How to Administer Tests Online” and “How to Customize Your Tests.” The guides are thorough and easy to follow.

The online testing platform is pretty awesome. It allows instructors to administer assessments online. It also provides data for tracking a student’s progress. The test room is a convenient and flexible way to customize your homeschool or classroom. You can choose to create your own test questions or search from the massive library of created content.

I created a sample Social Studies test about presidential elections. I was able to search the pre-loaded test options and adapt it as I wanted. I could then customize the date and time I wanted the test completed. I could customize if I want the student to be able to go back and review or change answers, if I want a practice mode enabled, and if I want the results to be shown upon completion.

Once the test is complete and ready to go to the students, I can email it to them or upload directly to Google Classroom. You can create a list of students with your HelpTeaching Pro Subscription so you can email the test and instructions directly to them.

I could see how this feature would be great for homeschooling middle and highschoolers. I think it would be great if you are teaching a co op class. It is very organized and user friendly.

I was also able to generate my own worksheets using my HelpTeaching Pro Subscription. I LOVE this feature. If a child needs extra help with a topic or a fun worksheet to go along with a topic we are working on, this is a great option. I created the above Summer Time Word Find for my elementary age girls in a matter of seconds using the worksheet generator.

You can search the library of tests and worksheets by grade. I have a rising eighth grade. The subjects offered for her grade include Arts, Music, English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Study Skills/ Strategies, and Vocational Education. The amount of content is a bit overwhelming, but very well organized.

HelpTeaching offers online lessons as well. These are self-paced lessons. Some of their content comes from sites like Khan Academy, Educator.com, and Bozeman Science. I am particularly excited to use the SAT prep video lessons and their accompanying assessments.

As you can see, HelpTeaching has three different levels of membership. You can join for free, but your access is very limited. The Pro Subscription is what we are using and it is only $49/ year. That is an awesome price for all the content and resources you can access!!

Be sure to follow HelpTeaching on social media:

Facebook: facebook.com/helpteaching
Twitter: twitter.com/helpteaching
Instagram: instagram.com/helpteaching
Pinterest: pinterest.com/helpteaching
YouTube: youtube.com/helpteaching

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free printableGetting Started Homeschoolingpreschool

Getting Started Homeschooling Part 5- Preschool

I LOVE Preschool! Those are some of the most precious years. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and I was a 4K teacher before I had children of my own. I absolutely love that age. They are so fun and so curious and say some of the most amazing things. When I was starting out teaching, the school where I was to work had formerly been simply 4th and 5th grade. The schools in the district were divided by grade. There was one school for K-1st, one school for 2nd-3rd, and one for 4th-5th. So… not only was my school not set up for little ones, 4 year old kindergarten was a completely new concept!

When I arrived a couple of weeks before school was to begin, I was shown my new classroom. It was completely empty! The furniture had been ordered, but wouldn’t arrive until after the school year had begun. I had nothing. No rug, no cubbies, no toys, no tables, no chairs… nothing. I started scavenging. I walked up and down the halls and took from the piles of discarded items other teachers were throwing away. I had a friend give me a few boxes of materials. A friend gave me a tub of Duplo Blocks. The toy store where I had worked for the summer went through their inventory and loaded up my car with a lot of items that could not be sold… CDs that we had used to play music in the store, items that had been used for story time or puppet shows, slightly flawed toys. I collected everything I could find for those next two weeks. I recruited my husband (who at the time was just a friend) to paint tables for me.

But wait… there’s more…

The school had no curriculum or plan for me to use. I was tasked with creating the 4K program for my classroom. The program was a new idea. Most of my students were half day preschoolers. I had a morning and an afternoon class. However, I had about ten students who would stay all day. These students were considered “at risk” and it was thought that they would benefit from double exposure to all the lessons.

Y’all. They put a brand new teacher into an empty classroom with no plan! I was thrown into the deep end! But guess what? I made it. The year was so much fun. I made a kitchen center out of cardboard boxes. Those Duplo Blocks were well loved and played with daily. We danced to songs from those old CDs. I covered the walls with artwork from my students instead of cute little posters. My assistant, my co-teacher, and her assistant were all brand new. We made some amazing memories as we stumbled through that year together. It was eye opening for sure. But some of the lessons I learned in that first year of teaching carried me when it was time to school my own preschoolers at home.

When someone asks, “What do I need for my preschooler?” ” How do I choose curriculum?” ” What should they be learning?”

This is my 3 step response:

  1. Read
  2. Play
  3. Explore

Let me say this LOUD AND CLEAR…. preschoolers do not need structured academics. Preschoolers NEED TO PLAY. They learn through PLAY. Let them PLAY!

Y’all listen to Mr. Rogers! Play is serious learning. It is not an easy out to let your preschooler play all. day. long. Unless your child is really excited about workbooks and sitting at the table to “do school,” don’t make them do it. My oldest liked to sit with me and do school for about one hot minute per week. He much preferred reading books about planets and building solar system models. He loved to explore the backyard and collect sweet gum balls. He rode his tricycle, climbed trees, built forts, rescued stuffed animals in danger, played with his sister, looked at books, read books, watched Little Einsteins and Sid the Science Kid. I learned from my experiences with him to not push school on my girls. The time would come for more focused academics. Preschool is a beautiful time to learn your children and see the world through their eyes.

I know this might seem tough. Especially if your non-homeschooling friends are sending their children off to preschool and posting all their super cute crafts on social media. You may feel like your child who prefers to play in mud puddles over learning to read is going to fall behind. I promise he or she will not fall behind. I promise PLAY is the most important. I mean… Albert Einstein said it… so… you can believe it.

When I potty trained my third child, she was much younger than my first two had been. They had been closer to three years old. They had potty trained very easily. I thought by number three I was a pro.

I was not.

It was a miserable experience. I had a newborn and was trying to potty train my not-quite two and a half year old. That child peed on me on a number of occassions. She wet her clothes regularly. She wet furniture regularly. It was MISERABLE. I thought I was going to ruin my relationship with this child. We tried every reward in the book…. nothing was working. Fast forward about six months. She decided she wanted to try to sleep through the night without a pull up. She had her eye on a pair of Hello Kitty boots. I told her that if she kept her pull up dry for five nights, she could have the boots. She came out every morning with a dry pull up and watched me check off the calendar. She was over the moon excited when she got those boots. Why did it work then and not before? She simply wasn’t ready six months prior. Because she wasn’t ready, it made the training that much harder.

I have seen in my parenting career that if my children wait until they are ready for something, the success rate is so much higher. Potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, playing the piano… If you just give your child a little time, school and life will go more smoothly. If you are getting push back from your child. If they are just not seeming to grasp a concept… take a break. Take some time off and come back to it later. When they are ready, they will take off! That was my story. I was a poor reader all through early elementary school. I was put in the lowest reading group and had to stay in from recess all through third grade. But when I finally figured it out… when my brothers spent time with me helping me learn… I took off and never looked back.

If you want to maintain a culture of play and direct a little more focused education, let me suggest you utilize Busy Bags. Busy bags are simple activities stored in a bag for toddlers or preschoolers so they are always ready to go! They are engaging activities that your child can do independently. They are great for playing during quiet time at home or to keep them busy while waiting at the doctor’s office. I suggest using zipper pencil pouches to store your activities.

Toddler Busy Bag Swap

This picture is from a Toddler Busy Bag swap I did with some families in our community several years ago. First, we generated interest among our local community, then everyone picked an activity, agreed on a date and time and the swap was on! Each person picked an activity to make and made multiple sets of that one activity. We each brought our items to the park and shared about what we had made.

1. Paint chip matching

2. A Button Snake… kids lace shapes onto a long ribbon.

3. A Lacing Toy… this awesome lady cut up a plastic dish drain and provided strings and pipe cleaners for endless play time. Toddlers can pull the string through the holes. Preschoolers can practice lacing and weaving.

4. Color Matching wheel … See below for the FREE printable that goes along with this one. Kids match colored clothespins to the color wheel.

5. Color Match circles… A Big circle is laid down with a color written on it. Kids match smaller circles with pictures done in the same color. (Example… the big circle says “green”… kids place a small circle with a green smiley face on top.

6. Pom Pom Push…. we also had this one at the previous swap. It is a huge favorite at our house. You take a small plastic container at cut a hole in the lid. Kids can push the pom poms through the hole. This mama put duct tape around the hole so no little fingers get cut with jagged plastic.

Preschool Busy Bags

1. Pom Pom Pick Up. The child has a container filled with pom poms and a set of tongs. The lid of the container has a hole in it. The child can empty the pom poms and then use the tongs or their fingers to put them back through the hole in the lid. This activity also came with a straw… the child can blow the pom poms around the table!

2. Homemade Play Dough… every kid I’ve ever met loves play dough. It just has so many great learning aspects… especially development of fine motor skills.

3. Felt Pizza… with order slips!! The child can create custom pizzas with this fun activity. They have crust, sauce and a variety of toppings. The activity also has order slips to make custom order and practice counting how many of each topping goes on the pizza.

4. Color Match Puzzles.

5. Spoon Matching with Shapes and Numbers.

6. Spell Your Name Bunting. This mom made personalized busy bags for each of the families that participated.

7. Block Puzzles. The child estimates how many blocks will fit in a certain shape and then does the puzzle to find the correct answer.

8. Paint Chip Color Match. My kids LOVED using clothes pins!

9. Lacing and Shapes. Children lace the ribbon through various shapes.

A favorite activity of my kids, when they were small, was making patterns with Duplo Blocks. You can create your own patterns using the Free Printable Below.

Please don’t stress, dear friends. The preschool years are tough… they are… but they are oh so fun! Preschoolers are amazing and come up with the best games. They have amazing imaginations and are so, so curious. You can teach your preschooler to listen to the rhythms of their body. They need play. They need rest. They need activity. They need calm. Teach them self awareness. Ask them what they want to learn. Explore with them!

Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are:

highschoolhomeschool helpsProduct Review

Who Is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know! A Review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

As much as I want to be in denial, I have a highschooler who is going to be setting his sights on college in the next couple of years. I remember taking an entire course my junior year of highschool to prepare me for writing college admission essays! While thinking about prepping for college, I am happy to find resources like Who Is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know! From The Critical Thinking Co.

We received a physical copy of Who Is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know! by Joyce Slayton Mitchell. It is also available in eBook format. It is designed to bring ease to the college admissions process… particularly the essay portion. The book provides exercises to help students get to know themselves with confidence. I think it is a rare find when a student exists who actually knows what they want to do with the rest of their life upon completion of highschool. With so many career opportunities out there, how does one ever choose just one path?

It is not enough any more to rely soley on grades for college admission. As stated in the Introduction to Who Is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know!, “Many American colleges use a ‘holistic’ admissions method, which looks for the most interesting students who ask the best questions- who know themselves- how they think and what they think and how well they know their own culture: their history, literature, their government and politics, their art, and music.” Colleges want to know what a student will bring to them. Talents, extra-curriculars, art, sports, etc. all carry weight in the college admissions process.

Who is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know! is an excellent tool to help personalize the college admissions process. The five main parts of the book include:

  1. Student Assessment: Thinking and Writing Exercises
  2. Searching the Colleges- Building Your College List
  3. Communications
  4. College Admissions Calendar
  5. Glossary

My son just completed his freshman year of highschool. He is considering what college might be like, but not thinking about it too often. While we did not dive fully into the book, it is never to early to teach self-awareness. The exercises found in the book are fantastic for affirming uniqueness and giftedness. I also love that he is able to see what colleges may be looking for. He can see that the extra things that he is involved in like community service, theater, art, etc. are incredibly valuable. He can be proactive in his highschool career.

Because not all colleges look for the same things in their admissions process, there are several exercises in the book to help cover the holistic approach and bring into focus what an individual student is considering. Activities such as the following are included:

  • Student Self-Assessment (including a campus culture quiz)
  • Building the Colleges List (college fairs, campus visits, etc)
  • Applications, Essays & Interviews
  • Calendar for College Admissions

The book is incredibly thorough. It includes places to record observations about college visits, asks questions to narrow down what type of college culture you are looking for, has sheets to fill out with questions for when you visit a college fair, sample college applications, interview practice, and essay practice.

I think this would be a fantastic book to use in a highschool co-op class. I also really think it is would be a wise investment to have one for each of your college bound students as they are getting closer to that process.

The Critical Thinking Co. is wonderful. We have used several of their resources in the past. They serve PreK- 12th grade!

Be sure to follow The Critical Thinking Co. on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCriticalThinkingCo
Twitter: www.twitter.com/criticalthinks
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thecriticalthinkingco/
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/criticalthinks
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsVEVNa6UpVqXxo_t5sbb7Q

The Review Crew had the opportunity to review several products from The Critical Thinking Co. Click the banner below to learn more: