Category Archives: spelling

Math & Spelling practice with Math Shed and Spelling Shed ~ a Crew 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.

math and spelling practice

Practice is something that is so helpful for math and spelling. Both of these areas are skill based so doing something over and over is key. Math Shed  and Spelling Shed can help in these areas. Miss J is at the top end of the skill and age range for these products but we have still seen them help her a good amount.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 10.18.16 AM

Each of these programs are designed for either independent use or for use in a classroom/school setting. Homeschool use has been great for us. Miss J logs in each day to her own hub and can choose either Math Shed or Spelling Shed. We have asked her to use each one for a minimum of 10 minutes per day and told her which lists/skills to work on. We are a bit hit and miss on the daily use due to our stretched out dance schedules at the moment, as we are still working towards a recital at the end of the month. Even so, we have seen improvements in her skills and she enjoys using this program.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 10.20.41 AM

Math Shed allows her to pick skills she needs to work on – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, powers of 10, and number bonds. She started with a review of powers of 10 and number bonds. Now, she is working in the multiplication and division area.

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She chooses which set she is working on and then a choice of easy, medium, or hard. After choosing those settings, she has 1 minute to answer as many as possible.

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on computerIt is not a stressful minute and she seems to enjoy playing it. We have her do a minimum of 3 games, only 1 of which can be on an easy level.

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Spelling Shed is game based work on spelling. We have Miss J working on stage 4 & 5, which is the most challenging sets of words.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 10.26.20 AM

Once she chooses that, she can then choose the play option. She uses Play, which is sort of like a board game we love where you find letters to create words. This has four levels – easy, medium, hard, and extreme. This requires a student to be working with a particular word list and works on both the spelling a definitions.

When she has completed three rounds of the word list set game, she can go to the bonus games and play with whatever words she can find.

spelling game

Most of the games require a word list for the student to be working on. These can be found in the Teacher Hub. The login for the Teacher Hub is different from the student’s login information.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 10.03.47 AM

In the Teacher Hub, you will find videos to help you get started and learn a bit about the different ways Math Shed and Spelling Shed can be utilized. There is an easy to see reminder of how much longer your subscription is active. There is a visual chart of the student’s days’ logged in. And there is a place to make assignments, among other useful information.

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The assignment feature could be really helpful if you are working diligently on a particular curriculum. You can use the word lists that are built into the spelling side of the site or you can even add your own. We just used what was available. It was good challenges. You can make assignments if your student is one who works better with particular assignments or if you need to record these things for record keeping.

Another thing you can find in the Teacher Hub is the spelling curriculum. This includes teaching help, activities, and printable lists. Phonics based lessons are available and word lists increase in difficult as they progress. It is a wealth of information and activities. There are 36 weeks of lists and activities to use in addition to the website practice games. You can view and download a sample from their site.

avatar creation

And I can’t forget to mention – they get to design their own avatar. Through getting skills completed and growing in their ability, they can even “purchase” items for their avatar. This is a great incentive for many students.


Math Shed and Spelling Shed are great additions to a spine curriculum in either subject and will add fun practice and challenge. Spelling Shed can also be that main curriculum for spelling and vocabulary if you are looking for that for either a home education setting or a classroom setting. Interested? They do have free trials available without having to enter credit card information. There is also an app available for those who prefer that format.

Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read additional reviews from other homeschooling families who have been using Math Shed and Spelling Shed with their students.

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Reading Eggs Workbook Grade 5 ~ a Crew review

a quick and easy, all-in-one reading skills workbook

There are some things that it is just nice to have in a simple, compact, easy-to-use format. Grammar, comprehension, and spelling are all packaged up simply and effectively in the Reading Eggs workbook, 200 Essential Reading Skills for Fifth Grade, that Miss J has been using for the past few weeks. Reading Eggs has set it up to work right alongside their online program, which is Reading Eggspress for this level. The website requires a separate subscription purchase.

Reading Eggs cover

The softback workbook is set up by the week and contains one page for each day. Day 1 and Day 2 are comprehension lessons with excepts from a text that can be read in full on the website library. The comprehension lessons help the student learn to annote (or mark up) a text, noting the important parts and learning reading strategies. There are also two or three questions each day to answer regarding the reading of the text. Some of these are very simple but some require some inference from the reading, which does a great job of stretching understanding.

Reading Eggs workbook comprehension

Day 3 and Day 4 are spelling lessons. These lessons have a different spelling “rule” or pattern each week and the words all correspond to that.  The activities vary quite a lot to help focus interest and memory. The student might sort, work with phonics, count syllables, determine meaning, or have to fill in blanks. The second day is a more challenging day with the words being at a higher level and more complex spelling patterns. This day might also include things like unscrambling words or proofreading for spelling mistakes.

Reading Eggs working hard

Day 5 is a grammar lesson. These lessons each focus on a different grammatical term that helps the student understand the English language usage. The student might work on commas, dashes, clauses, or types of sentences. These are just a few of the terms that might be dealt with and the activities could be marking where they should go or finding mistakes in use, underlining, or completing sentences. Each day has a few different activities to help the student really understand.

Every 9 weeks, there is a comprehensive review. If you are working on a 36 week schedule and want to complete the whole book in that period, this will probably mean you have to double up at the end of week 9 to stay on schedule. For those of us on a more relaxed schedule, one page a day just means the review days are just “another day” and part of the norm.


The Reading Eggs workbooks contains everything needed for reading comprehension, spelling, and grammar learning. The table of contents shows you week by week what is going to be learned. If you are a more visual based person and need a calendar look at it, you have that, too. Following the student pages, there is an answer key at the back of the book.

Reading Eggspress website

The Homeschool Review Crew working on this review were offered a four week access to the Reading Eggs website since the workbooks sit alongside the website so nicely. We have had access to the website before and were thrilled to have it again. Reading Eggspress is the branch of the website designed for 7-13 year old students. It includes over 2,000 ebooks and has individualized learning to help all students boost their language and literacy skills.


Miss J works in her workbook every day and it takes her maybe 15 minutes. Two or three times a week, she also works on the website. She plays games to strengthen her spelling and vocabulary. She can access the full story that corresponds to the reading passages in the workbook for when she finds the excerpts interesting. She will spend a hour on the website if I let her. For this reason, I often make her do it after her other schoolwork is completed so she can spend as much time on there as she wants to. With rewards and fun activities, it is an exciting way to strengthen language arts skills.

Overall ThoughtsReading Eggs review image

I really like Reading Eggs. When we first started homeschooling, I would not have thought that Reading Eggs was something I would appreciate but I am glad to say I have been wrong! I have wondered what would have happened had we tried it out sooner but, regardless, we have it now and it is really benefiting Miss J. She enjoys the simple activities in the workbooks, even when they are super challenging, and she has a good time when she is working online with Reading Eggspress. We definitely would recommend Reading Eggs.

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Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read about the experiences other families have had with Reading Eggs. They have used reading workbooks from K-grade 5 and math workbooks from K-grade 2. Click on the banner below to read more reviews.Reading-Eggs-Math-and-Reading-Reviews



Reading Kingdom – online language arts instruction ~ a Crew review


We were asked to take a look at Reading Kingdom  for this review and when we started, I was unsure about how it would benefit Miss J. She was reading well and could express herself well, though she didn’t care too much for writing. She enjoyed typing though. Giving Reading Kingdom a try brought out some interesting things for us.

Reading Kingdom  teaches Phonics Plus Five. In other words, it teaches all of the six main reading and writing skills needed to communicate in the English language. It is immersion based, meaning the skills are not taught by memorization but rather by continued use in context. The six skills are:

  • sequencing
  • writing
  • phonology
  • semantics
  • syntax
  • comprehension

These skills are really well explained in the PDF that is linked at the bottom of the page titled Why It Works. That page and the PDF will give you a really solid understanding of the program and how it is different from others on the market today.

typing activity

Using Reading Kingdom

The program itself is really quite easy to use, though a couple less clicks to get started would be nice. Once in the session, the child just follows the directions for each of the activities in the lesson. The directions are spoken so the child does not have to read to get going.

Miss J was working in level 4 of 5. I think she placed a bit low because the placement test threw her a couple of curve balls she wasn’t expecting. She did not capitalize her sentences in the placement. And there were several times that she clicked faster than the program registered so it counted some things wrong. All in all, though, she has benefited from her placement, even though it is low for her.

The activities have so many different benefits that it is hard to explain, honestly. Some of the activities have the student recognizing the sequencing placement of the letters of the word. Some are looking a placement in a sentence. Another might have the student spelling the word. Another has the student recognizing it next to a similarly spelled word. Activities might have the student typing or clicking to input. Capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure are all a part of the activities students complete in a reading context, not just an exercise for the one thing.

word identification activity

Each lesson focuses on a particular word. Today’s lesson was rainbow. She has had cold, happen, saw, and small, to name just a few. When a word is focused on, the various ways to use the word are also covered (part of the semantics, syntax, and comprehension). With cold, for example, she also saw colder. With rainbow, she also saw and typed rainbows. With too, she had to identify it in context of a sentence that might have both too and to next to each other; she had to choose the correct one.

The set up of each lesson is game like, without actually being a game. It is brightly colored and has sound effects (annoying to me but right up Miss J’s alley). In the upper right corner of the screen the student can see how many more parts the lesson has. There is also a way to pause the lesson or you can close it out before completely finishing it. The next time you log in, you come back to where you were.

controls, points, and parts of lesson

What Reading Kingdom  Recommends

Reading Kingdom recommends the student complete one lesson a day at least four days per week. If you need to move along a bit faster, they say it is okay to do two lesson a day but recommend not doing any more than that. We have stuck with the one lesson per day, though we have honestly struggled to do four days per week. I think we are showing an average of 3.3 days per week. Yep – that is how detailed you can get with the information available from Reading Kingdom. And there are more reports available.


I can download and save or print a report that shows me the progress of my class/student. For Miss J, it shows me which day she completed which lesson and her rating for it. The beginning of the report shows me how she did on each part of the assessment and how long it took her. If you have to track time on task, that is in the report as well.

report example

Another way you can see the progress is on the start page. There is a progress bar that is visible to show how much of the level is complete. There is another to show how much of the program is complete. Below that is a table with markers showing similar material.

screenshot of login progress bars

How We Like The Program

Overall, I think Reading Kingdom  is a program that has a lot of benefits to it. I like the integrated approach to the multiple skills and I like that it is not taxing or difficult for Miss J. It is a program she can be independent with, which, as a 9 year old, is a big deal. I do believe that in the long run, we will see that having worked through the levels of the program that it placed her in has been of benefit. But it isn’t as visible as some other programs may be. We may not be able to point to a particular thing and say “That is what Reading Kingdom did for her.” I do believe she is benefiting, though.

Miss J does not beg to do the lessons but she doesn’t complain about them, either. There are a couple of things she would change. The program repeats a lot and much of the work are things she knows. She thus feels she is doing things below her level or having to repeat things. What I am seeing, though, is her working well at words presented in context and being able to spell them easily at the end of the session. She is having to pay attention to what she is doing and her typing skills are definitely improving.

Another complaint that she has had is the speed of the program as it moves through a sentence reading or having her type. But guess what? Tonight I saw that there is a way to speed up the movement from word to word within a sentence. So I am changing that. (I saw it when I was taking a screenshot for this review. That is one of the issues with her being independent – it never donned on me that I could change that. She’ll be happy tomorrow!)

Would I recommend the program? I don’t know. Not because it isn’t good but because I am not sure it is for everyone. My oldest two did fantastic with sight words and moved into independent reading quickly and easily. They would not have done well with this program because it moves carefully through each word. They have never struggled with reading, spelling, context, or any of those skills. This would not have worked with them.

Miss J on the other hand has grown into her own reading enjoyment a bit more slowly and needs a bit more work on her spelling and writing. This is working with her on those skills. She gets context easily and understand much about grammar. But those are helping her with the other parts of this program. So it works for her.

If your student is at the beginning of their reading journey, this would be a fantastic program. If they are farther along and can already read some but are struggling, this might be good for them. I have not found an assessment of any type that you can take prior to signing up with the company but reach out to them if you have questions. I am sure they would be happy to help you make your decision.

At Home.

There were a number of families with students at different levels and needs, including some with ASD, who were reviewing Reading Kingdom . See what some of the other families had to say about Reading Kingdom and ASD Reading by clicking on the banner below.


K5 Learning ~ a Crew review

K5 Learning is a supplemental, online program that is designed by educators and intended for anyone needing to strengthen their reading, math, or spelling skills. Both home educated students and public school students alike are the target users for this program.

K5 LearningK5 Learning has three main components – reading, math, and spelling. The reading instruction is intended to help students in phonics, sight words, and reading comprehension. Math is intended to assist students with numbers and operations, geometry, and data, along with beginning algebraic thinking. The spelling portion of the site is a combination of spelling and vocabulary building.

When a student begins with K5, it is best to begin with an assessment. This is designed to help place the student at the lessons that will most benefit the student. It takes about 20 minutes to complete each assessment, a total of about 40 minutes as there are separate assessments for math and reading. We found these assessments to be fairly inaccurate, especially in the phonics department.

After completing the assessment, each time the student logs in, she is taken to a page to choose either math, reading, or spelling for the day. Clicking on the category takes the student to the beginning of their activity for the day. The student is then taken through an online lesson that consists of stating the object, instruction, practice problems, and then an activity. Each page has a button at the bottom that is supposed to allow the student to stop and save their work. This is where they should be returned the next time they log in to this category.

Some of the nice parts of the online program include:

  • easy login for both student and parent

    math worksheet

    a printable worksheet

  • once logged in and the area is selected, the student begins right where they left off the last time (assuming the programming is working correctly – more about that in a minute)
  • the program is rich in visual and auditory material
  • the parent can retrieve reports on the student’s progress and growth
  • bite-sized lessons
  • parents can assign material if additional practice is needed
  • spelling words can easily be added
  • printable worksheets are available to provide an off-line component

While these are all really nice things, we found that K5 did not meet the needs of our family. I will start by talking about the assessments.

Miss L – 10 at the start of the review period; 11 at the end

  • I expected Miss L to assess out of the program in reading, as she reads and comprehends at a very high level and her spelling is excellent. She tested at 2nd grade levels in phonics but those lessons were completely inappropriate for her age and ability. There was no way for me to see what specifically she needed to zero in on, if anything, related to phonics. Her reading placements put her at high 5th grade but even those lessons seemed below her ability. It was not pleasant or helpful for her to complete these lessons.
  • In math, Miss L placed approximately where I expected her to – right on level. I felt like this assessment was probably accurate but the instruction was a very poor fit for her age and ability. She was unable to work with the instruction and program without extreme frustration. We did not make her continue with the program.

Miss J – age 8 during the review period

  • I felt as though her reading assessment was off. While the numbers for placement looked good, the material was almost all review for Miss J. She was working on phonetic material that she had completed easily six months ago and the reading was below her abilities.
  • Miss J’s math assessment also seemed off. It had her working on materials that she completed a while back, while also having her work on things that she did not know anything about yet. It was kind of a mixed bag for her, though technically it was showing her as placing at a low 3rd grade level (a bit higher than she is currently working in her curriculum).
student dashboard

student dashboard showing the three parts of the program and the printable worksheets


We encountered several issues, aside from the assessments. One of the biggest? Miss J had to repeat assignments that she passed a number of times. In particular, there was one series on reading comprehension that she had to repeat a total of five times before it moved her forward. I did contact the company and they told me that she had to pass it with better than 65% to move forward. Well, she had. I had sat beside her for 4 of those times and she had gotten everything or almost everything correct. We would log out and log back in, and it still made her repeat it. We were just about to give up on the program completely when it finally let her move forward.

This came up another time, as well. However, this time she only had to repeat the lessons three times before moving on.

reading comprehension page

One of the biggest issues I had with the repetition is not that she had to repeat – after all, relearning material can really help in the long run. The issue was that the repeat was just that – an exact repeat: same lesson, same words, same passages to read, same questions to answer. After the first time through a reading passage, it is no longer a reading comprehension exercise; it is now a memory exercise. This is not helpful if the student is truly struggling with reading comprehension.

Another issue that we saw was in the math instruction. Miss J was working on multiplication. The lesson began with a image of some arrays that was intended to assist her in solving the problem. But after the first reference to the arrays, all other discussion was done without referring back to the image. The image for the problem is never tied to the method of solving it. We saw this same sort of thing occur in many of the math lessons. The picture appears, and then is ignored in the instruction.

In math instruction, we did not feel as though there was actual instruction. Most of the time, multiple problems were walked through, step-by-step. Lack of instruction meant that I had to sit with Miss J for the duration of her work on the program so I could fill in the missing information for her. I realize that this is a supplemental program but, as such, student who are needing additional practice need additional instruction. I expect a supplemental program to provide that piece, especially since K5 is designed with an assessment to help place the student where they were having difficulty.

Additionally, I had to instruct her on how to answer questions. The input of answers was not intuitive for the student and problems were often not lined up logically. Problems did not have the tens and ones places lined up vertically. Some problems had to have commas inserted for the answer to be counted correct; others did not. Adding those commas often misaligned the columns. Just another bit that makes it hard for the student to not get frustrated.

vocabulary lessonTiming was another issue. If a student knows an answer, it is detrimental to their concentration to have them have to wait out all of the talking the program does before they are allowed to answer the question. More than once, frustration built up because our students had to wait to type in an answer. At other times, the answer was timed and if the student took too long to type it in, what they had already worked out was erased and they had to start over. This was especially true in the 5th grade level math. She often had no idea that it was going to be timed until after she had already had an answer erased. Again, this built frustration and did not help in her learning skills that needed practice.

At the late 2nd grade level, a student does not need everything read to them. This is a great option but it should be just that – an option, not an automatic feature. This took up a lot of time and Miss J often lost her concentration while waiting on the voice to stop talking so she could answer a question.

I think that there are probably some very beneficial things about this program. However, after our experience, I wonder if this is not a program that the student needs to begin when they are younger. If they had grown with this program, perhaps we would not have met with all of the frustrations and issues that we did. All in all, this just was not a good fit for our family.

At Home.

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Jolly Phonics & Jolly Grammar ~ a TOS review

Jolly Literacy review

I never thought I would see the day when Miss J begged to do multiple phonics and grammar lessons. This is the case every almost every school day since we began using Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar, which are both by, also known by the official company name just2ducks LLC, is quite a different program than any I have seen. I’ll be honest and tell you I really don’t like teaching phonics. It seems almost a waste time to me but that is because reading has come very easily for everyone in our family. Even so, has helped me to see the value in teaching phonics, even after a student can read.

Miss J is beginning 2nd grade, reading very well, and knows quite a bit about phonics through general day-to-day reading and discussion, plus a previous phonics program. She has not, however, done any specific grammar programs. I give you that just to kind of help you understand why we are using as we are. books

Jolly Phonics came with three Student Books (Student Books 1, 2, and 3 in print letters) and a Teacher’s Book in print letters which includes the lessons for all three Student Books. These three books are progressive in the knowledge, with each one building on the one before. Once we received these books, I looked through them to try to gauge where Miss J would place.

Student Book 1 is dedicated to introducing the student to the letter sounds. There is a page for each of the 42 main sounds of the English language. 12 tricky words are covered. Student Book 2 begins providing the student opportunities to practice reading and writing the letter sounds and introduces capital letters. There are alternative spellings discussed for some of the sounds and more tricky words are introduced. Student Book 3 works on better understanding of alternative letter-sound spellings and introduces the remainder of the tricky words. Improvement of comprehension, reading and writing skills are also goals of Student Book 3. All three levels are designed for one page to be completed per lesson. All together, these three books give a complete year of instruction. Jolly Songs book and CD, which we also received, go right alongside Student Book 1, presenting a letter sound in song format with a familiar tune. These tunes repeat and the CD is right there to help you out if you need it.

I could easily have chosen to not have her do any of the phonics Student Books as there is quite a bit in Book 3 that she already knew. However, there was enough in there that we hadn’t really covered that I felt it would be a good review and teaching combination for her.

Jolly Phonics Student Book 3

Some of what she knew: the ph sound combination, most of the “tricky words” she could read without any problem, blending sounds, comprehension of simple to mildly complex sentences.

Some of what I knew she needed: finding alternatives that make the same sound (i.e. – ou and ow), spelling, dictation practice.

We absolutely enjoy using Jolly Phonics. We complete a lesson on Monday and Thursday with Jolly Grammar on Wednesday and Friday. And most days, she wants to do more than one lesson. Alright by me, as it doesn’t seem to affect the phonics program.

Each lesson follows a fairly consistent plan. Begin with some review of sounds or tricky words. Give instruction for the lesson, using the page in the student book for some parts. These might include reading, writing, or drawing. There will either be some dictation of simple sentences, blending practice with some more difficult words, or reading some sentences. The Teacher’s Book is essential for this program as it contains many things that are not in the student book for each lesson.

Each page is colorful, simple and draws Miss J right in. As I said, she really likes this program and asks to do more than one lesson a day. Sometimes, she asks to do both phonics and grammar on the same day. Which brings us to the grammar program.

spelling testJolly Grammar 1 is what we have been using. We received Jolly Grammar 1 Student Book in print letters and Jolly Grammar 1 Teacher’s Book in print letters. Jolly Grammar is just as simple to implement as Jolly Phonics. It’s bright, colorful, and uncluttered pages make it a joy and it draws the student right to the page without being a distraction. This program follows the Jolly Phonics program with the goal of teaching basic grammar, spelling, reinforcing the phonics program, and improving comprehension and vocabulary. The Teacher’s Book is required for this program, as with the phonics, because it contains a number of pieces for each lesson that are not printed in the Student Book.

Jolly Grammar is intended to be taught with two lessons a week. This gives you approximately 36 weeks’ worth of lessons in this program. This equates to a single page per lesson. One lesson is designed to be mostly spelling and the other mostly grammar. Again, we are using this in combination with the Jolly Phonics, so we are alternating days and seeing a lot of overlap, which is quite good. I contacted to ask about the combination of the two programs and she felt like, based on what I told her about Miss J’s abilities, that this combination would work fine and I have been very pleased.

Examples of activities from the grammar book include: finding words that have a particular sound in them, listing the words, and illustrating them; finding mistakes in sentences such as missing capitals and periods in the wrong place; and, dictation of words and sentences. Spelling tests include 10 words and have a special place at the back of the student book for writing the test.

Phonics Book 3

The biggest issue we are having is that Miss J is enjoying these two programs so much that she really wants to fly through them. Which is hard when every other lesson in Jolly Grammar includes a spelling test! But, Miss J is a very good speller so these are pretty much reviews for her. Except for the long word included in each list. Those are giving her problems but she is still loving it and the challenges the program presents. And I am enjoying using this program to teach. Published by just2ducks LLC, Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar get my vote.

At Home.


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IEW Phonetic Zoo ~ a TOS review

Spelling – the adversary of so many. It is a struggle I don’t have but am thankful for products like Phonetic Zoo by Institute for Excellence in Writing to help out. I was not too sure about how this would work but we have been rather pleasantly surprised. We received Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level B [Starter Set] and it has turned out to be a joy.

Phonetic Zoo is unique. What makes is unique is that it focuses on the sequential patterns of spelling. One of the big mistakes in spelling these days is that it has become a visual learning area. That makes it most impossible for students to learn spelling because the output for the information is sequential. You cannot output sequentially what you don’t input sequentially. That is a nutshell concept but it is key to understanding Phonetic Zoo. (Check out their website for more details.)

Phonetic Zoo from IEW

Our package came with:

  • 5 audio CDs
  • Lesson Cards, which have the spelling words and jingles
  • Personal Spelling Cards
  • Zoo Cards, which have the jingles and animal cues
  • Downloadable Teacher’s Notes file
  • Spelling and the Brain seminar

The very first thing I did once we received our review package was listen to the talk that Andrew Pudewa gives on Spelling and the Brain. I highly recommend this talk for everyone and it is available as an individual item to purchase. Mr. Pudewa’s understanding of spelling struggles make so much sense. Thinking through the difference between audio input and visual input, I could see the issues so many have and why spelling can be problematic. I could also suddenly see why this program could be the answer for many to an ongoing struggle.

Then I read the Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes. These were helpful and gave me some great information to start the girls out with. A lot of understanding came because of reading this file. It contains information for each lesson, additional spelling words if needed, and some printable files. We have not yet used any of the printable files, or “cages,” that help organize the small zoo cards into categories.

using Phonetic Zoo

Both of the older girls tested into the program at Level B. Before ordering, there is a placement test on the website to help you correctly place your student.

Here is basically how we use this program:

Each day of our regular work days, the two older giggly girls work through a lesson from Phonetic Zoo. A lesson is titled such because it is a series of words that the student must master the spelling on before moving to the next lesson; it does not designate any set period of time, such as a day or a week.

  1. At the beginning of each new lesson, I go over the jingle and phonetic rule with whichever girl it is for using the big Lesson Card.
  2. We look over the list of words for that lesson and I give them the small Zoo Card. It gets hung up outside the hall bathroom where it will be seen often and then she goes to her room to do the lesson.
  3. They take a piece of notebook paper that is labeled with their name, the date, the lesson number, and the number of times this lesson has been attempted. They use a pen (Mr. Pudewa discuss the purpose of using pen on the IWE site.) and the CD with headphones on. They write down the words from the list as they are given on the CD.
  4. Then, still using the CD, they correct their own list of words.
  5. They bring their page to me and we look at their correct and incorrect words. We mark the page with 13/15 or 100% or some variation of the number correct. And that child is done for the day.
  6. The same lesson is repeated the next day until 15/15 is achieved two times in a row. When they get that, they move on to the next lesson.
Phonetic Zoo independence

We chose not to use earphones for this giggly girl because her CD player does not have a headphone jack and it is also a sensory issue. We put her CD player very close to her work surface instead (less than 12″ from her).

This takes 10 – 15 minutes. Tops. And the girls are enjoying it. I rarely have to convince them to do their spelling work. And we are seeing progress in understanding. I don’t necessarily see a major change in their day to day writing yet, but both of the girls were pretty good spellers and many of the words they are working on are somewhat above their daily vocabulary. What I do see is a pride in progress each time a lesson is worked on and growth in understanding of the principle/jingle. This is huge because these are not “easy, get it right the first time” lists. L is working on her current list and is at about the 15th or 16th time on it. She is now up to 14/15 each time and it is a different word tripping her up each time. She will get it, though, and she is not discouraged. She will know those words inside and out when gets that 100% two times in a row and moves on to the next lesson.

We have also experienced a fun little side bonus. Our 6 year old giggly girl has decided that she wants to be a part of Phonetic Zoo, as well. She sees the small zoo cards on the wall daily and stops to read all of the jingles. She can quote, without a mistake, the first three lesson jingles. We just put up number four the other day so that one won’t be long, I imagine. We are already hearing her apply these jingles. The other day when she was writing the word “play,” she quoted the line of the lesson one jingle that was about the a-y spelling of the sound. I can’t wait until she is ready for the first level of Phonics Zoo.

This is a program that is not just for homeschool students. This process and information will be of use and encouragement to all educators. Visit Institute for Excellence in Writing and check out Phonetic Zoo.

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Dynamic Literacy – a TOS review

Dynamic Literacy deciphering the parts of wordsWords fascinate me. E has always been fascinated with words as well. Since she could talk, she has always played with words, creating new ones, putting sounds together differently, seeing what all she could do with words. So getting the opportunity to review Dynamic Literacy, a program that focuses on the HOW of putting words together, was right up our alley.

WordBuild: Elements, Level 1 Set (Includes WordBuild the Game) is a fantastic set that has three pieces to it that all work together to help the student learn how to build words. Truly, it is that simple. And that complicated. The pieces of the set include

  • a 336 page teacher’s guide
  • a 156 page student workbook; and
  • WordBuild The Game disc for the computer.

The Program:

The concept behind Dynamic Literacy is amazingly simple.

prefix + root + suffix = wordDynamic Literacy affixes study

This concept drives the curriculum and the activities. This concept thrives on the exponential learning capacity of knowing and understanding each of the parts. Learning and knowing each of the pieces of the word, the morphemes, helps you decipher the meaning, thus making it possible for you to decipher words you have never seen or heard. There are 25 roots covered in Elements Level 1.  There is a prefix and suffix appendix to help students who may need to learn or review these affixes prior to starting with the root word studies.

The program has a five day approach, with the activity for each of those days staying the same. The root changes each rotation.

  • Day 1 – Root Squares activity (putting the pieces of words together from given morphemes)
  • Day 2 – Magic Squares (deciphering the meaning of words based on the prefix + root + suffix)
  • Day 3 – Stair Steps (coming up with the word based on a definition)
  • Day 4 – Comprehension Boosters (using the words in context)
  • Day 5 – Check-up for the root (mini-test with multiple choice questions)

There is also a “word wall” for each root. It is suggested that the student write down each new word with that root that they come across as they work the activities during the week.

It is suggested that only 15 minutes a day is needed for these activities, which are geared towards 6th – 10th grades (or perhaps 7th-12th for remediation). You will find the activities to be completed in the student workbook. The teacher’s guide has copies of the activities, the answers, and various teaching suggestions. If you are a classroom teacher, the teacher’s guide also has teaching objectives for each activities, along with differentiated instruction helps and cross-curricular examples.

daily work in Dynamic Literacy

Using the Program:

When we began Dynamic Literacy, we stepped back and did each of the lessons on the prefixes and suffixes that were needed before beginning the root word studies, as is suggested if you haven’t completed the Foundations levels. We felt like that would give us the best start. I am glad we did because the definition used for some of the affixes was just enough different from my understanding or E’s understanding of it that we struggled with some of the activities and definitions. I had to pull out the answers for things more than once, and not just for grading.

E and I enjoyed the activities in WordBuild and it was fun working together.  We will set this aside for the summer but when we jump back in with a full load in the fall, I think this will be in E’s box.

WordBuild the Game:

WordBuild the Game CDWordBuild the Game focuses on the same concept as the workbooks: prefix + root + suffix = word. It is an interactive program where the student places the morphemes together to try to make as many words as possible. It can be timed or not. If the student puts together pieces that don’t make a word, the program gently tells them that the word is not in the dictionary. You will need to check the Dynamic Literacy website to see the system requirements for this program.

The game was not terribly intuitive but once I got the hang of it, I was able to teach the girls pretty easily what to do. E had tried to figure it out by herself but couldn’t. We had both E, age 11, and L, age 9, working with the game. It wasn’t a hit but they enjoyed it well enough that there were no complaints about using it.

WordBuild the Game in use

Final Thoughts:

I think this is a unique approach to learning vocabulary and how to approach words that makes sense. It is how I have always thought about words so I felt right at home with this curriculum. E enjoyed the variation in activity from day to day, even though the weekly pattern was in place. Her absolute favorite activity was Magic Squares. She looked forward to it each week so much that she would ask to double up the day’s work if it meant she could do Magic Squares. There is also an online version of WordBuild that I am excited to read the Crew Reviews about. All in all – a hit.

If you are interested, Dynamic Literacy is offering a discount for my readers. Use the code athome for 25% off the books at or for 10% off at

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Spelling You See Level G – a TOS review

SYS Level GWhat do you do when spelling is comes fairly natural for your child but you see enough issues that they need to practice those? Other than read a lot, there isn’t much out there to help with those irregular spellings and spelling changes for adding suffixes and prefixes. We were given the opportunity to review Spelling You See’s newest level. Spelling You See introduced a level that works on those suffixes and prefixes in a natural exposure setting and context.

Spelling You See ReviewWe were asked to review Spelling You See Level G: Modern Milestones. Modern Milestones is designed for a student who can spell most everyday words easily and is ready to delve into word extensions. Word extensions includes not only suffixes and prefixes but also patterns that are used to create alternate word forms. It flows along nicely, following the other levels of the Spelling You See family and the research from which Spelling You See comes.

Modern Milestones will take the student to meet individuals who have influenced the modern era. There are artists, scientists, musicians, inventors, and more. Each biography will expose the student to not only the person and their ideas but to word patterns and extensions. Each biography is a short paragraph. Working with the word extensions and patterns within a paragraph is a natural, comfortable way to learn spelling. This is a strong point for all of the Spelling You See levels.example

Each week the student will work through one lesson, which is broken into five parts (A-E). Typically, the first two days have the student finding and marking base words and their extensions. For example, in lesson 3, the student is looking for base words such as work, wash, brush, paint, and grace, among others. Then the student marks the endings -ing, -es, -ed, and more. The student also finds the prefix over- in this lesson. The student then copies the passage and marks it again.

day 3

On day 3, the student works with the base words, exploring how to change them to add extensions. This also helps the student see and use the unusual changes that occur such as changing -f ending to -ves. The student also has to identify the subtle changes in meaning.

On days 4 and 5, the student again identifies the base words and extensions. Instead of copying the passages, though, it is dictated to the student.

This repetition is constant, continuous exposure to these words and ideas in a natural context. This helps the student to understand and remember the words and processes.using product

We have used a previous level of Spelling You See and this follows it comfortably. One of our girls is currently using Spelling You See Level E. The growth of the student’s spelling ability is easy for us to see. We have liked the results we have seen with Spelling You See and the process of working with the words in context. The subtle changes Demme Learning has made for Modern Milestones has been a fun and pleasing change that keeps the student interested as the lessons move along.

In order to effectively use Spelling You See, you will need to have the Student Books. There are two of them and they come in a set. You will also need the Instructor’s Handbook. The student will need a pencil and a set of colored pencils. Erasable colored pencils have been almost a necessary investment because we spend quite a bit of time erasing marks as we get used to the process.

Spelling You See Review

Spelling You See ReviewSpelling You See Review

I know that spelling is a nemesis for most students. We have not had that problem and thus the spelling tests that we used to do were problematic for different reasons. It didn’t make sense to study a set of words that the girls already knew how to spell. Spelling You See is a program that fits with how we learn, as a family. To learn more about Spelling You See, the levels available, and the research behind this great program, please visit their website.

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Orphs of the Woodlands – a TOS review

Have you ever wished that your child’s favorite thing could be used to teach them their least favorite things? Well, get a taste of it with Orphs of the Woodlands. This is an online education resource and game that combines reading with experiencing hundreds of tidbits of knowledge.
Star Toaster introduced their first book in the Orphs of the Woodlands series not too long ago. It is titled The Treasure of HighTower and our family was thrilled to get the chance to review it.

TOS review

The Treasure of HighTower did not disappoint. Star Toaster has created a story line about a squirrel, whom your child gets to name, that becomes a spy and helps to rescue orphaned forest creatures. The story is so exciting, so full of adventure, that the girls had a hard time not reading all the way through it in pretty quick succession. They wanted to just keep reading. But, if they did that, they were going to miss an important and exciting part of the program.

As the story goes along, Spy (what we’ll call the squirrel for the time being) runs into orphans, or orphs, that need help. If Spy doesn’t learn what is put before him in his day to day life, he won’t have the money to provide the help these orphs need. So, Spy must learn and pay attention and do the jobs in order to earn money and rescue the orphs. The more NID (New Information Daily) that is learned, the better Spy does on his jobs and the more money he has to rescue and provide for the orphs.

experiencing lessons


Now, don’t misunderstand. These are fun jobs! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in charge of creating the exact color of paint needed for the HighTower Highbrow Museum of Art? Or what about being a number namer for the bank? Letter Linguist? Synonym Specialist? Maybe you want to bake something for the Badger Bakery? Whatever you want to try out, there is a job for you!

How do you get these jobs? Begin reading the book at the beginning. After each chapter is completed, there are new jobs that you can work. Each job completed correctly will pay gold stars, with which you can take care of the orphs. Do a good job and more orphs will come to be taken care of. The girls loved seeing how many orphs appeared at the end of each chapter.

discovering moreI want to share a couple of thoughts about the product. I am impressed with this product. It has done a wonderful job of exposing the girls to about 240 different aspects of learning. (This is how many jobs were completed by E when she had finished the book.) Some of the jobs reappear with a bit more difficult learning tucked in there but I don’t consider the girls to have gotten significant instruction on most of these topics. They were definitely exposed to them and it opened up a world of ideas to the girls, which is fantastic. (We took several “rabbit trails” to explore some of these worlds of ideas based on the information presented.) This does in no way diminish the quality or worth of this program. The more exposure the girls have with more difficult concepts in a familiar context, the easier those concepts are for them to learn.

Reading is the bridge for this program. You definitely need to have a good reader with good comprehension for this program. The range for this program is suggested 4th – 7th grades. I think this is a good range but it could easily stretch younger or older. My 3rd grader was easily able to read it but she loves to read. There are lots of words she didn’t know but there are rollovers embedded in the story that give the part of speech and several synonyms in varying degrees of difficulty for the word. There are also rollovers for quotes and ideas that are shared as part of the story, exposing the reader to thoughts of great thinkers from all walks of life.

quote and vocabulary

Because this is an online program you will need to purchase a subscription for the book and you will need a computer to read and complete the jobs. I hope everyone has easy access to a computer because this was worth the time and effort. The girls learned so much and I have a much better idea about some of the curriculum choices we need to make for them because I saw how much they enjoyed learning that was embedded in reading a story.

As I close this review, I want to share one more thing that we absolutely loved about Orphs. Throughout the book, there are videos. Prof. Forp is the instructor and he is hilarious! He cracks jokes that help them remember information and repeats things in such a way that they are remembered AND make sense. You can see an example of his video on the Star Toaster home page. The girls, E especially, really enjoyed the Professor.  And I loved the jokes. This is one I can wholeheartedly say “Go check out.”

free trial

We are waiting anxiously for the next book to come out in the Orphs of the Woodlands series by Star Toaster. If this sounds interesting to you, they have a free trial that you should check out. (Psst – this would also be a fantastic addition to a summer reading program.)

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Our Crew Year Favorites

So, I am going to get this up today, even though I just got the other post up this morning. A couple of reasons, one of which is that the link up for this post closes tonight. Somehow, with all of the other stuff that we had going on, I missed that! So, you’ll get more than one post today. If you have been with us here for very long, you’ll know this is not the norm. If you are one of our newer subscribers, well – this is not the norm. I try to do no more than one a day and only 3 or so in a week.
2014 Blue Ribbon Awards
Our first year with The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew just ended and we had an amazing year, full of fantastic opportunities. To view the Blue Ribbon Winners with the entire Review Crew, click the image above to head over to the TOS blog and view all the categories. To find out our family’s favorites, keep on reading. (All links go to our reviews. They are not affiliate links.)

Literature Curriculum: Homeschool Adventure Company – The Wise Woman

Language Arts Curriculum: Moving Beyond The Page

Language Arts Supplement: Out of the Box Games

History Program: Moving Beyond The Page

Science Curriculum: Supercharged Science

Science Supplement:

Math Curriculum: IXL

Math Supplement: Clued In Kids – Multiplication Dragon

Foreign Language Curriculum: Middlebury Interactive Languages

Fine Arts Curriculum: ARTistic Pursuits

Christian Education: Apologia – What On Earth Can I Do?

Christian Education Supplement: Egglo Entertainment

Preschool Resource: IXL

Elementary Resource: Out of the Box Games

Mom Resource: Apologia – Flourish

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: My Student Logbook

Best Digital Resource: IXL

Favorite Book, Audio Book, Audio Drama: Heirloom Audio Productions – Under Drake’s Flag

Just For Fun: Clued In Kids

E’s Favorite (age 10): Heirloom Audio Productions – Under Drake’s Flag

L’s Favorite (age 8): Out of the Box Games – Snake Oil

J’s Favorite (age 5): Curiosity Quest

Our All Around Favorite: Apologia – What On Earth Can I Do?

We had two other favorites that we just couldn’t put anywhere on the voting so I am going to call them Family Favorites. They are both amazing resources and I am thankful we have them around.

Family Favorite #1: Maestro Classics

Family Favorite #2: Spelling You See


Thanks for joining us for our first Crew run. We hope you will around. Our second Crew run is about to begin and it promises to be just as amazing as our first. At Home.


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