Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Review of a Writing Course by BetterRhetor

This summer, we were given access to the course College-Ready Writing Essentials™ by BetterRhetor for review. This course covers the topic of essay writing for students as they prepare to enter college level courses. It is a complete and practical writing course with step by step instructions. It also gives valuable background information that will raise the awareness of any student embarking on the challenge of college level academics.

My interest in have my daughter use this course despite her recent graduation was to give her one more writing experience to boost her confidence in her knowledge and ability to communicate effectively with the written word. She has written throughout her homeschooling experience but an essay format was not the norm. I want her to have an understanding of for what will be expected of her and to approach it with more confidence. The college essay assignments seem to produce anxiety for many students regardless of the approach to their high school education.

The first section of College-Ready Writing Essentials™ includes lessons and worksheets that prep a student for the process of writing an essay.  The information also includes a discussion of what to expect and what will be expected from students in a college academic setting. This information is presented in a straight forward way and presents useful considerations for a student about to enter a college environment. As a homeschooling parent, I appreciate this aspect of  the course. Having another voice contributing to the importance of taking what will be expected of a college student is helpful. The material covered in the preparation section is a solid reminder of what "the college experience" is really about. Learning, incorporating, presenting and communicating are all necessary skills for successful careers no matter what field of work someone plans to enter.

That this course emphasizes that college is a place to learn and to take that learning and "transform it through your own creative intelligence", from Lesson 9 College-Ready Writing Essentials TM. 

Beyond the background and preparation lessons College-Ready Writing Essentials™ covers all of the essentials of writing a college level essay. It walks the student through the entire writing process step by step. it covers the importance of how to evaluate source materials for credibility and provides ways to discern what is high quality and trustworthy as sources for a student's investigations. The course requires a fairly high level of reading comprehension skill. It gives a range of  topic exposure in general terms including some current events and societal issues.

The full package course includes 25 lessons. Each lesson contains thorough teaching material, examples and some include downloadable pdf worksheets for student use.

Given our very busy summer and the big changes in our family this summer, it was difficult for my daughter to get through the entire course. Even in a normal summer, I think it would be hard to complete the full course. It would be a great course to use over an academic year. It could be worked through at a student's own pace finishing quickly or over a school year's time frame.

The course is easy to access online. However, since we spent much of the summer in a variety of locations and not all together as a family, we struggled with what has typically been an easy, just jump on the computer, to read and do lessons from our home desktop. For most of the summer, my daughter has only had internet access via her phone and that has been spotty at times. It was this experience that gave me the idea and the wish for College-Ready Writing Essentials™  to be available in a text book/workbook format. An old school idea perhaps, but having the course in a book to take along would have made it possible for my daughter to use our travel time as an opportunity to continue to work through the course.

Technically, this year is somewhat of an academic gap year for my daughter while she is pursuing her dream of ballet training. However, we will soon be solving the current online access issue for her so that she can complete the course this year for added preparation for college classes. College-Ready Writing Essentials™ is an extensive and valuable course for any student wanting to improve their writing skills in preparation for college.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Fresh Indigo Leaf Dye Workshop

With our family in the midst of big changes, it has been a full season for us this summer. There has been significant purposeful travel as we began the process of setting up our young adults in their own places for their next adventures in life. And with my mixed feelings of excited anticipation and dread of depositing my youngest into her new life and study, I was thrilled to discover that a new instagram friend was hosting a natural fiber dye workshop in Kentucky. Conveniently placed in time and location to near where we would be traveling in August. 

Robin of Hill and Hollow Farm was hosting a natural dye workshop that coincided with my trip taking our daughter to Tennessee.

So the excitement was heightened and the dread eliminated (almost) by looking forward to joining in a workshop of artistic exploration and interest long put on hold. The added bonus was the opportunity to participate with my daughter who was equally as interested and excited.

I hope that by focusing on shared interests and activities we both enjoy, we can keep our connection strong through the upcoming stages of growth. This workshop made it easy this time.

Robin and her lovely teen daughter worked together throughout the workshop, sharing their knowledge about the plants and the process used to dye fabrics. Seeing their easy interaction was one more example to reinforce my confidence that all the investment in family and homeschooling is worth every moment.

A long ago begun work in progress. I pulled this piece of fabric out of a closet to take to the workshop. I had stitched it up years ago to dye with a resist pattern and never finished the project. After tightening up the string to pleat the fabric, it was basically ready to go. It has since been transformed for my daughter into decorative throw pillows for apartment living.

As this process of letting go of children into young adult lives continues, I am actively looking to reconnect with long neglected interests and discover new ones. I am confident that it will lead to new levels of understanding with my grown children and to deeper connections with others. Art making, sewing, more writing, travel and how to use technology to enhance it all. Social media has helped me re-discover and find new connections.
So many wonderful results! So much fun learning and creating together for the day!
For more info on upcoming indigo learning events, follow Robin on her Hill and Hollow Farm on instagram
Thank you, Robin! Looking forward to more!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Britfield & The Lost Crown - A Book Review

A new book delivered to my mailbox always equals happy mail for me. Over the summer, I was delighted to receive a soft cover copy of the newly published Britfield & The Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart for review with homeschoolreviewcrew. This newly published adventure novel is available as a physical hard or soft cover book or as an e-book. Despite, or perhaps, because of years of homeschooling our children which involved reading with and/or to them regularly, my own reading for pleasure was often put on the back burner and has become less and less of an activity for me over the years. Due to the many changes in our lives this summer, Britfield & The Lost Crown was in my hands and there were no homeschool students nearby to read it with or to. This review became an opportunity to begin a return to my own personal reading for pleasure. It created the need to schedule it in.

Honestly, it was a slow start. The early pages of the adventure novel had me a bit confused as to the setting in time of the story. Initially, I couldn't quite let go of trying to figure that out. Set in England, the place was clear, but perhaps, it was my lack of familiarity of England's history that added to my own confusion. Once I put that aside to just read and enjoy the story the pace picked up. As the two main characters, two precocious orphans, embarked on their adventure I was swept away into the excitement and mystery. Then with the author's vivid descriptions, the book began to read like a movie. I wasn't surprised at all to learn in my follow up research that the author, C.R. Stewart, is also a screen writer.

Run by unsavory characters, the orphanage is an oppressive place for children to live. The children manage to provide themselves with some education by secretly borrowing from a well stocked library in the mansion of the orphanage's overseers. The reading and sharing of the volumes taken from the book collection is a highlight for the orphans.They maintain some reasonable expectations about what they deserve through memories and the sharing of the volumes taken from the library. An attempt to escape is eminent. To not spoil the story, you'll have to read it to discover the outcome.

C.R. Stewart presents plenty of references for any reader to grab a bit of understanding of English history and geography. By including detailed descriptions of the places the young adventurers experience, he introduces landmarks of significance and interest. He also manages to include some art history references as the orphans encounter the work of famous European artists.

This story provides excellent opportunities to jump into further study of history, geography or art history. Finding images of  paintings by any of the seven masters mentioned in the story would further add to the visual richness of this adventure. Studying maps of locations described would develop geography literacy. The extensive eight week study guide at available for free encourages further learning. The guide includes a range of follow up activities from simple word game activities and reading comprehension questions to prompts for more in depth study. The vocabulary questions included encourage students to determine and understand word definitions based on context. A shared reading of Britfield & The Lost Crown with the use of the free study guide could easily turn the adventure story into a complete unit study covering several subjects.

This review not only introduced me to the writing of C.R. Stewart but also the the online resource of The Britfield Institute. There are resources for homeschool families and for classroom teachers available through the site. From downloadable illustrations with quotes encouraging learning and creativity to complete programs for teaching, this is a valuable source of potential teaching support to be aware of.
Downloadable images available from

I'm looking forward to reading the reviews of Britfield & The Lost Crown by other Review Crew reviewers. You can find them with me by clicking the image below.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Another Great Airbnb Stay!

These photos are from our new favorite Airbnb. With our now, more frequent, trips to the Nashville area, this lovely retreat is becoming a home away from home for us. If you travel regularly, or at all, Airbnb is worth a try. There are so many available options to choose from. Whoever your travel companions are, there is likely to be an Airbnb that can accommodate you and your family.
A favorite Airbnb!

When you use our referral link to sign up with Airbnb you'll get credit for your first reservation.
Give it a try! Safe and happy travels!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Online Music with Simply Music - A Review

This month, we had the opportunity to use and review the beginning course Music and Creativity - Foundation Course offered online by Simply Music. 

Simply Music  
Music & Creativity - Foundation Course

This introductory course is available to anyone free of charge. As someone who has never had formal piano lessons, I was intrigued by the claims made in the promotions for this course on the website.

"It has students of all ages improvising and playing great sounding blues, classical, contemporary and accompaniment pieces - immediately - from their very first lessons." 

I did take guitar lessons as a child. I was taught by, what Neil Moore describes as, the reading-based approach. I learned to read music in those lessons and gained some basic musical exposure and understanding. I enjoyed learning to play but, I did really want to play more familiar and popular songs sooner than that approach allowed. The most fun I had with guitar at that point in my life was the mini concerts my neighborhood girlfriend and I put on for, well, no one! We sang our hearts out though, I strummed along and thank goodness there wasn't a video or phone wielding mom around every corner at that time in history!

As far as my piano skills, my musician husband has shown me a few piano basics here and there. He has also given basic lessons to our children when they showed an interest. I invited my husband to participate in reviewing this product with me for the Homeschool Review Crew which he graciously did. As a teacher of music himself he was interested in the teaching approach and the online lessons provided.

The Simply Music; Music and Creativity - Foundation Course, includes 19 lessons. In each, Neil presents the lesson. His lectures communicate each concept simply and clearly. The foundation course is geared toward beginners. I appreciated his easy to understand explanations of what to do and how to practice. The lessons also include quality recorded sound tracks for play along participation. Amazingly, it really does only take a few lessons to actually be able to play along with those sound tracks to some degree. The fun of experiencing actually playing along provides the motivation to continue more lessons and practice that is often lacking for students.

There is also a reference book that includes simple diagrams that provide a visual aid offering another way to understand the material presented. Given what the objectives of the course are; to get a student playing along fairly quickly, it probably isn't necessary to include traditional notation but, it also probably wouldn't hurt to have that in the reference book as well. A downloadable practice pad is also provided but I am certainly glad we have our piano to practice and play on.

My husband and I viewed some lessons together but watched most separately.

His notes are as follows:
Learn without notes first.
Learn slowly but multi-sensory.
Speak, vocalize through what you are attempting to do, to really know it.
Very methodical.
Play along with orchestrated recordings (Sound tracks)
Get into playing songs quickly, not scales or technique exercises.
Combined piano playing with sound tracks is fully orchestrated.
Re-interprets pieces in a new style and tempo for a challenge.

An 84 page e-book is included that goes into more detail about Neil Moore's insights and philosophy of music education. In it he shares his thoughts on how to create opportunities for more participation and enjoyment of music by more students. He poses some intriguing questions about music participation in our culture and how he believes the approach he has developed, to teaching music addresses concerns he and others may have. Based on my own experience and working through about half of the Foundations course, I do think the teaching in Music and Creativity - Foundation Course addresses the issue of impatience or boredom that can accompany a reading music and technique first approach that causes many students to quit pursuing an active involvement in music.

It is not clear if additional courses on the Simply Music site may provide more instruction in specific technique and reading music. This Foundation course has been fun to participate in. Given that it is offered for free, the course only requires that a student follow along and join in, it is an opportunity to discover the joy of playing piano. The reward provided by actually playing along in this course makes it definitely worth the effort. And who knows where it might lead a beginning student.

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