Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: Homeschool Spanish Academy

Laura has had an intense interest in Spanish for several years, and has taken two years of "book and video" high school Spanish courses. While she can read and write Spanish very well, with exquisitely proper grammar and fairly good pronunciation, she is really lacking in conversational skills. Without having native Spanish speakers to practice with, her conversation and practical use of her Spanish knowledge has really not improved much at all beyond a raw beginner's level.

This past Spring, we heard a recommendation for Homeschool Spanish Academy through a homeschool support group, and Laura began saving up her own personal money to purchase a semester of instruction. Imagine our delight when we were given a half semester of the high school program to review through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew!

What is Homeschool Spanish Academy? It is a group of instructors based in Guatemala that have undergone rigorous training in instructing their native Spanish language through Skype lessons to people all around the world! There are age appropriate lessons and levels for all ages, from young elementary age children (Kindergarten, age 5) through adults. The teachers all are experienced instructors who conduct themselves in a very professional manner.

How are lessons set up? Once the student has purchased the program they desire, the tech center contacts the student to arrange for a technical "set up" to make sure everything is in place for the first lesson. Once the lesson time starts, it is "all business" and no lesson time is devoted to "technical issues". Students are allowed access into a members-only dashboard on the website, where they can read through the teacher's biographies, select a teacher, select a lesson time that is convenient, and see any notes or homework assignments from their teacher. There is also a very nice library feature that members have access to.

Members Dashboard

What equipment do you need? Students will need a computer with a high-speed internet connection, a good quality microphone, speakers or headset, and a webcam (not required but highly recommended, and definitely very useful). The student will have to download and set up a free Skype account. You can use this quick tutorial to see if your internet connection speed meets the minimum requirements to allow you to complete lessons.

If you have any technical issues, Homeschool Spanish Academy is quick to email or call with technical support and assistance. They really go the extra mile to make sure that all technical and computer problems are solved immediately.

How do you know if a teacher will be a good fit?  When we first signed on, there were about a dozen teachers to choose from. Each of them had a picture and a short bio listed.  You can sign up with one teacher for the duration of your lessons, scheduling recurring lessons for the entire semester at a set time, or you can schedule one lesson at a time and use various teachers - depending upon their (and your) availability.  During each lesson, the teacher keeps meticulous notes about what was covered in the lesson, and the student's progress, so that another teacher can come in and continue right where you left off. If one teacher is not a good fit, there is the definite opportunity to select another one for the next lesson.

Overview of the program:

Pricing:  We reviewed a half semester course, which includes 7 lessons. (One lesson per week for 7 weeks). The cost for this program is $99.99, which works out to be $14.28 per class. The more lessons per semester in the program, the greater the cost, but the "per lesson" price decreases. Once your classes are ordered, you can pay via Paypal. At first glance the lessons may seem expensive, especially compared to other Spanish curriculums that are available. What has justified the cost in my mind is that a) You are getting one-on-one tutoring at your own pace. (I my area, individualized Spanish tutoring currently runs about $40 an hour, which makes these lessons a huge bargain!) b) There are no books or workbooks to buy - everything is included in this price. c) Learning and actually speaking the language will come quicker because of the instant feedback and positive interaction.

Here is a chart showing pricing for the high school program:

As you can see, the more classes you buy, the better the price per class is. Classes can be scheduled at a pace of 1-2 classes per week. Even though we were only signed up for a half semester, the scheduling was very flexible. We were able to schedule 2 classes per week when needed, to make up for a week that Laura would be away at camp and unable to have a lesson that week. The classes are "credits" on your account, and you are able to look at your dashboard and see how many you have used and how many remain.  You are able to cancel and reschedule a class easily by emailing your teacher. They do ask for 24 hour notice. We did not have to reschedule at all, so I did not have the opportunity to test this out.

Free trial lesson: Homeschool Spanish Academy does allow one free trial lesson. You can interact with a teacher in an actual video lesson to get a feel for the program. You have to create an account and follow the instructions for a free trial lesson.

What about homework, tests, and grades? The teacher assigns homework for each lesson. The class itself lasted about 50 minutes, and Laura was able to complete the homework assignment in about 15-20 minutes.  Homework assignments are found on your 'dashboard' and can be downloaded. The completed assignments can be emailed to your teacher or uploaded back to the assignments page. We had a technical issue with uploading homework, and had to contact customer service. I have to say that the customer service was very helpful, friendly, and thorough. Our issue was quickly resolved. Laura had a test after the 4th lesson, and the teacher gave her good study tips to prepare for it. Grades and progress reports are posted to the website for the parent to download and use for the student's transcript.

Here is a partial screen shot of one of Laura's homework assignments:

Is this program sufficient for high school credits? The program is thorough and intense, and the website states that each level is equivalent to a half credit of High School Spanish.

How has High School Spanish worked for us?  Laura was very nervous for her first lesson. Since she has not really spoken much Spanish with another person, she was worried that the teacher would not be able to understand her. We went online and she looked through all the available teachers, and selected one. In fact, Laura picked 'Elsa' because she listed soccer as one of her interests, and Laura loves soccer! During the first lesson, Elsa asked Laura a lot of questions, to get her talking in Spanish and to be able to assess what level of difficulty she would work with her at. Elsa quickly put Laura at ease and made her very comfortable. By the time the second lesson came around, Laura was looking forward to it with eagerness and enthusiasm, and was not nervous at all. Elsa also had me come join in on one of the lessons to ask what my goals were for Laura, so that we would all be on the same page.

I sat to the side and watched some of the lessons, as Laura completed them. Elsa kept the lessons moving along, and used several different methods of communication, including a split screen where Spanish phrases and words were typed, so that Laura could see the words written as she was speaking them and hearing them. This helped Laura tremendously, and was actually one of her favorite parts of the lessons.

Anytime Laura did not understand, Elsa stopped and repeated the words, and also typed them onto the screen. She was extremely patient and used much praise and positive reinforcement. We both loved having her as Laura's teacher! They discussed many, many different topics, making the lessons personal and practical.

We have two lessons left to complete, and are looking forward to finishing up our half semester of Spanish. It has been a great reinforcement and encouragement to Laura, and has really helped to boost her confidence a bit in her Spanish communication skills.

What if there is more than one student? Homeschool Spanish Academy can accommodate two students in one lesson with one teacher. The pricing is a little more expensive (You can see it for the high school level here). The students must be within 3 grade levels of each other and be able to work together well. This is a great option for homeschool families with multiple students needing instruction.

What I really liked: I thrive on organized details. I love how organized this program is. It seems like every minute detail has been thought of to make this program a success for the students. The program, the website, the teachers - all come across as very professional. As soon as you schedule a class, you receive an email confirmation. You also receive an email reminder the day before your scheduled lesson. The teachers have always been right on time, or even a few minutes early. What I like the most is that Laura is actually speaking Spanish and loving it!!! Her confidence has grown and her love for Spanish and continuing to learn it has definitely increased.

What Laura really liked:  Laura really liked the instant feedback to know if she was pronouncing a word incorrectly. She was able to hear the right way, and correct it immediately. When she was repeating words back to a video, she did not get any feedback, which prohibited developing a good speaking style. She enjoyed the patience and understanding of the teacher when she couldn't remember a particular word, and she enjoyed learning new words or proper ways to say things. It seemed so much more "real life" than just learning from a book. She found it incredibly interesting, and was so excited for each new lesson.

What was difficult: As the summer ended, and many students started back to school, the schedule quickly filled up for the Homeschool Spanish Academy. Since we have been scheduling our classes week to week according to what worked best for our hectic summer schedule, we were not able to finish our last 2 classes before I wrote this review. We are still able to finish them, but the teacher does not have an available spot until the end of September now. This is not the fault of Homeschool Spanish Academy. In fact, I am happy that so many people are benefiting from their program!! Laura was just very disappointed to have to wait so long for her next lesson!! When we had scheduling difficulties, the company sent out an email explaining exactly what they were doing to correct and improve the situation - they are hiring and training more teachers! I have to say that I am very impressed that they recognized this difficulty and are working to correct it so quickly!

My recommendation: I highly recommend this program! It has completely exceeded my expectations. Laura has come further in her Spanish speaking in these last five lessons than she has in a whole year of "bookwork" Spanish lessons. We are planning on purchasing a semester of lessons for her to continue expanding her Spanish communication skills.

Would you like to read more reviews from the Crew, and see how students interacted on the different levels, including adult instruction? Click the banner below to read more reviews!

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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Civil War VBS

If you have noticed that the blog has been a little're right! You're not imagining it...

We just finished a week long VBS that was set up as a Civil War encampment. It was fun, inspirational, spiritual, and educational! Everything was set up to simulate a Civil War camp, and the kids were split into four teams under four 'generals'.

And just so you know....we did do a little history revision - the South won our 'war'!

All of our decorations were handmade by our wonderful VBS crew. All the girls wore bonnets, sewed by one of our dear moms, and all the boys wore blue/gray hats decorated by another mom. Even the general's costumes were sewed by one of our seamstresses. I am continually amazed by the talent and dedication of the people I work with!

Here are some fun pictures to share:
Theme graphic:

Preaching in front of a beautiful hand painted backdrop:

The Union teams:

The Confederate teams:

The General's office:

Old fashioned table setting:

Field Dressing Station:

"Blood-stained" cloth bandages:

Medical Station:

Battlefield Medicine:


"Civil War Era" ladies:

Information Station:

Battlefield cooking:

Homemade cannon complete with cannon balls:

Rugged chapel benches:

Field fencing:


Mosaic crafts:


Chaplain preaching the Word:

The fearless generals and Confederate soldier:


Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Since I missed my regular week of "Blogging Through The Alphabet" but this post is all about WAR I am going to count it as my "W" week.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: In The Hands of a Child

For a little summer project while we are off of 'regular' school, we had the opportunity to review a lapbook project pack called Under A Microscope from In The Hands of a Child.

This is a complete unit study curriculum geared towards K-3rd grade, teaching about cells and things that are 'unseen' to the human eye, and how to observe them using a microscope. When you purchase the curriculum, you receive the lessons, a lesson plan guide to show what projects could be done together on which days, and the actual projects to cut out and glue together to build the lapbook. Everything is laid out and organized and no additional books or lessons are needed to complete the study. (Although there is a list of additional resources - books, videos, etc - that you might find helpful for further study).

 Learning about cells in pond water from a library book.

Additional supplies needed to build the lapbook: two file folders, scissors, glue, one brad tack, stapler, and coloring supplies if desired.

Additional materials for completing the study: a microscope, slides, slide covers, newspaper, saran wrap, eyedropper, water, onion, knife, various things to look at under the microscope.

How we used this project pack: I completed this pack with Kelly, who is entering 3rd grade. She was thrilled when I got out the big microscope that typically only the 'big kids' use, and we started talking about how to use it. Following the lesson plans, I showed her all the different parts of the microscope, and how to use them. We then did the activities that were planned for the lesson, and when those were done, we started on the lapbook projects. Kelly really enjoyed the activities, and seeing how things looked under a microscope. Over all, it took us about a week to complete this entire lapbook.

Here is a picture of her finished lapbook:

 And the cover that I made for it:

Activities we completed:
  • We placed saran wrap over a sheet of newspaper, and then dropped a few drops of water onto the wrap, to observe how water can magnify objects.
  • We looked at various items under the microscope, including a piece of hair and a slice of onion.
  • We pricked our finger and made a slide with a drop of blood, to observe how living cells move around and then get slower and die when no longer in the body. We were also able to observe the difference between red and white blood cells, which was very cool. This led into a long discussion about cuts, blood clotting, the immune system fighting infection, and the importance of hydration. (Initially Kelly and I were working on this, but this particular activity easily drew in the other children!)
  • We talked about other things that Kelly would like to observe in the future.
  • We drew pictures to illustrate our observations.
Using the microscope
The lapbook projects include:
  • Microscope parts
  • Instructions for looking at a slide
  • Steps to focusing a microscope
  • Why is the microscope an important tool?
  • Who gave the microscope its name?
  • The difference between top & bottom lighting
  • Suggestions of things to look at under a microscope
  • Two types of microscopes
  • Observation drawing
  • A set of vocabulary word flashcards for the entire study
Making vocabulary word flashcards
Recommended ages: While the company uses K-3 as the suggested ages, I think this study would be good for all elementary and middle school grades as well. There is plenty of meat in the study. It includes complicated words and vocabulary and the projects are interesting. An older student may not enjoy building a lapbook as much as a younger student, but the curriculum itself is still very valuable. The fact that it is all laid out and organized in one packet makes it extremely easy for a parent to incorporate it into science lessons, and use with multiple age levels.

What I really like: The projects are printed in such a way that the student can trace over the words (they are written in the proper places with dotted lines) or they can use the pre-printed project pieces. I chose to do the pre-printed pieces and just let Kelly enjoy learning about the microscope, rather than turning this into a writing project for her. She was able to cut out all the pieces on her own, and assemble all the projects very easily. Some of them required her to match up words with meanings, and she had no trouble doing that.

Kelly really liked: There is no set order or placement for the projects into the lapbook. As we completed the projects, she placed them in a zipper bag, and we assembled the lapbook all at once when the projects were completed. She liked moving them around until she was satisfied with the placement.

For the future: I feel this lapbook is set up in such a way that Kelly will pull it out and look at it over and over. This will help her to review what she learned and remember the facts better, and because she is proud of her work and enjoys looking at her accomplishment, she doesn't even realize that she is actually 'working' and reviewing science material!

Pricing: This lapbook is available in several formats.  We received the ebook as a download, which can be purchased from the website for $10. Additional formats available include a lapbook CD for $5.00, a printed format for $8.00, or a printed/CD combo for $11.00.  In the Hands of a Child is currently offering 50% off these lapbooks, which means this curriculum pack could be purchased this month for $5.00!

In The Hands of a Child offers lapbook and notebooking projects for all ages. They have a free ebook currently available, as well as regular specials. Each project webpage includes a link to a free sample of that particular project, for you to see what types of material is covered before you purchase it. I am definitely going to bookmark this site and check back often for more interesting projects!!

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed an assortment of lapbook topics - please click the banner below to see what some of the other families accomplished and what they thought of lapbooks from In The Hands of a Child.

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beauty Captured - Day 15

 Beauty Captured

~ Finding the beauty of life in everyday things ~

The Pebble Pond

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beauty Captured - Day 14

 Beauty Captured

~ Finding the beauty of life in everyday things ~

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
The Pebble Pond
Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beauty Captured - Day 13

 Beauty Captured

~ Finding the beauty of life in everyday things ~

In case you haven't noticed a trend here, I love sunsets!
The Pebble Pond
Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Blogging Through The Alphabet - V

V is for "Valiant For The Truth"

"Valiant For the Truth" is a Bible curriculum that we have used in our homeschool for our oldest. It is written by Dr. Sam Gipp, and is suggested for grades 11-12. There are 24 booklets in all, covering 2 years worth of work. The curriculum is set up in format similar to "paces" where the student reads material then answers questions about it, taking a test at the end.

This curriculum covers many common questions that people have regarding the Bible: where it came from, how it was translated, a lot of information concerning all the different versions, etc. It has so much historical information, and thoroughly prepares a young person to defend their faith in God's Word. We learned so much from it, and plan on using it again this year for our next daughter, as she enters 11th grade.

The website for ordering or more information is here. The entire two year course can be purchased for $72 which includes all the student text and tests, as well as a teacher's score key.

I am not affiliated with this company, nor do I receive any compensation for promoting this product on my blog. Just sharing something that we have found that we liked, and want to pass on for anyone who might be interested!

As we are setting up our curriculum and organizing school for 2013-2014, I am sharing this post as a "blogging through the alphabet" post at "Ben and Me".

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Beauty Captured - Days 10, 11, 12

Busy weekend here - soccer tournaments and county fair. So I am combining the days of Beauty Captured pictures! Enjoy!

 Beauty Captured

~ Finding the beauty of life in everyday things ~

 Country Sunset
 Baby Bunnies
Newborn Calf

The Pebble Pond

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.