Review: Poetry Memorization from IEW

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Published: 05/18/2016
I love Institute for Excellence in Writing products.  In fact, some of you know that my middle schooler has done some writing for a local new publication, and I credit all of that to IEW and their method for teaching writing.  I was more than happy to try Institute for Excellence in Writing's Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization Teachers Manual and Student Notebook.  This course is $65 and comes with a spiral bound book of poems and CDs to help you help your student become and excellent communicator, enrich their vocabulary, and help them learn complex and beautiful organization of the English language by cementing it into their minds through poetry!You can also opt to order the Student Book, which we received with our review materials.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review
The curriculum comes with 96 poems and speeches which are read on CD.  I really appreciate any curriculum that comes on CD because in our model of homeschooling I do an insane amount of reading and tire of the sound of my own voice.  There are also memory charts, poet biographies, and a CD from Andrew Pudewa's "Nuturing Competent Communicators."  I'm a fan of Andrew in his elephant tie from teaching writing structure and style, but this was fantastic information, as well. This talk really helps you to understand why memorization is vital to your child's success as a communicator, and as a student in general.

In this program you learn that memorization helps students become better writers and communicators because it gives them something to pull from, just like learning vocabulary and spelling words, memorization of great speech, literature, and poetry gives them a background knowledge base to pull their words and structure from.  There are five units of memorization, the first four are all poems which become increasingly more difficult and the last contains speeches.  As your children master the progression they move to the next level, and all students are recommended to begin at level one.

We started in level one, and the kids spent about 8-10 minutes a day working on the poetry without me using the CD.  They practiced the poem alone until they felt ready to recite it to me.  On the first poem this got complicated since with my 6th, 4th, and 2nd grader, everyone felt ready to recite and move on at a different pace so they couldn't work together the way I'd planned, but it still worked very independently for us, they just needed to take turns with the CD.  Once a student masters a poem, they move on to the next one, but continue to practice the poems they've already learned.  At the end of level one, they should be able to recite all of the poems from that level.  The book includes a chart for you to track when you recited your learned poems.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review
I have enjoyed this program and plan on setting it to the side for summer and then using it as a morning activity next year throughout the school year.  It's a quick "wake up your brain" for us, and I love that it supplements our writing activities.  If you're a teacher (home or school) I really highly recommend all of IEWs programs and approaches.  You can check them out here:

Twitter: @IEW



And if you'd like to see what other crew members thought about this particular curriculum, you can read more about it by using the link below.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review
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Review: Times Tales

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Published: 04/06/2016
More educational supplement reviews!! As we're heading into SOL time here in Virginia, I hope that these reviews will be helpful to all of you, not just homeschoolers! This one is particularly good- The Trigger Memory Co. provided us with the digital version of Times Tales for us to use in our home school, and we have really enjoyed it. I used the product with my 10 year old 4th grader, who already "knew" his times tables and wasn't super interested, but my 8 year old second grader really likes the program and has asked to use it each day.

Times Tales is, admittedly, a little weird at first.  I learned my multiplication tables the old fashioned way- my mom ran through flashcards until I cried, she yelled, and I tried again.  Eventually I got really fast at them, and then the dreaded cards went away, not to be seen or heard from again until my own children needed to learn.  Times tales, however, takes a very different approach.  If you have a learner that doesn't like route memorization or that does better with visual learning, this might be exactly what you've been looking for- whether you need a refresher before testing or you need to teach multiplication from scratch.

Each multiplication fact is told as a story.  In the first CD or digital download, the student is introduced to a cast of characters like Mr. and Mrs. Week (who only go out together).  Once they memorize the characters and confirm they know each one, they are able to move on to learning the "tales" portion.  Here's my daughter explaining a little more:
We've really enjoyed Times Tales for helping Savannah learn her multiplication facts, and we think that it's a great option, especially for kids that have not enjoyed learning facts in more "traditional" ways, or parents who just want to make multiplication fun from the outset! Another thing I really like about this program is that it moves seamlessly from online to offline.  The program includes printable resources that make a lot of sense- they start with the images of the characters your children have learned and then move to math facts with regular numbers, allowing your child to move from the stories to the written math to traditional math easily and without tears.  Additionally, the program is very easy to use- Savannah was able to use this as a supplement to her regular math curriculum without my assistance, which is always nice when you have three learners who need you.  At this point, after being taught how to open and run the program, she can do it entirely independently, although she's quite comfortable with her math facts after only a few hours using Times Tales and doesn't really need it anymore!

You can purchase a digital download of Times Tales for just $19.95 right now, and there's no waiting or shipping because it's instantly delivered to your computer.  If you're a classroom teacher, they also have classroom bundles available that include mini flip charts and a classroom sized flip chart, as well as a CD to print all of the hard-copy reinforcements that I mentioned earlier.  We really liked using Times Tales and think you'll like it, too! It's a little different, but if it's your learning style, it's the perfect way to learn your math facts in a fun way with no tears!

Times Tales by the The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
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Review: EdTechLens Rainforest Journey

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Published: 03/18/2016
Our most recent Schoolhouse Review Crew opportunity was to check out EdTechLens' Rainforest Journey program.  With three children in various grade levels, I am always interested in trying out digital options that might give me the opportunity to have each child engaged, even if I need to be providing one-on-one support to another child.  Our science coop is studying animals this year, so I thought that the Rainforest Journey would be a great way for my second grader, especially, to dive deeper into learning about animals.  We also received the 4th grade version, but my son wasn't interested at all- he thought that it was "too young" for him, and so we focused on 2nd grade. 

She's really enjoyed exploring the different families and species this year, and the Rainforest has some of the coolest animals on the planet, in my humble opinion. 
Rainforest Journey comes with a teacher account and a student account, and we initially had a little bit of trouble figuring out how to navigate to the student account and I actually had to email tech support for assistance, but they were incredibly friendly and taught me the trick- which was to sign completely out of the teacher version and use the assigned student ID (which was not the ID I gave my child, but a randomly assigned name) and password.  This fixed the problem and we were able to log in successfully.  
The pictures and videos are really vibrant and engaging.  Each lesson is divided into very manageable pieces that took my second grader, Savannah, about 8 minutes to get through.  The course is divided up into 5 units, and each unit is then divided into chapters and each chapter into lessons.  Generally, the lessons start with a picture followed by some information, generally 1-2 sentences, which you can opt to have read to you by clicking on an audio button.  At the end of each lesson, there is the option to print out an enrichment activity.
I like that the program tracks your child's progress for you, so you know where they're at.  I feel like there could be more information provided, especially since there is the capacity for embedded video, so even readers that lack confidence could enjoy more information without struggling. The amount of information is really just a tidbit. 
We think that Rainforest Journey has a lot of potential.  It's definitely not a "use alone" course that my second grader could do without me because it requires a lot of clicking and scrolling.  On page one of the lesson, you have to click up to 6 times to get through the lesson, if you want the sentences read to you, and many of the "pages" end up being several screens.  Also, the enrichment activity isn't on the computer, which I think would be nicer.  If I’m going to use an online program, I would really like it to be an online program, not something that I have to prep for by printing and gathering materials.

At the same time, my daughter has really enjoyed the pictures and will ask to do "that science on the computer" when we have time in the afternoons.  I like that they included primary sources and scientists, and I love the idea of Rainforest Journey as a supplement, but I would invest in it after it’s made a little more user-friendly and requires far less clicking and includes a little more information.  
Rainforest Journey EdTechLens Review
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Review: The Climbing Knights

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Published: 02/26/2016
I’m reviewing The Climbing Knights, one of four of SimplyFun new releases.

We love games in our house! We've got one set up in the dining room right now that took us too long to finish on Monday night, so we "paused" it until we have another free evening.  (Hint: put a quarter under the piece of the player who goes next!) Because of our love of games, I was definitely happy to be asked to review The Climbing Knights game from SimplyFun.

What's especially fun about The Climbing Knights game is that it's 3D.  Rather than being a flat board-style game, this game board goes up! What's really great about this style of game is that it's incredibly engaging.  We set the game up in our family room on the coffee table and forgot to take it down before having a few friends over, and the kids were immediately drawn to the game and wanted to know what it was and how to play.  

Here's the overview:
This game is for ages 8 and up.  It takes about 30 minutes to play and is for 2-4 players (because there's only four knights).  To win, your knight needs to climb the tower twice to retrieve "banners" and then slide back down.  Guards can stop you from reaching the top, so watch out! 

Each color-coded knight is actually a magnetic game piece.  Once you set up the castle game board, you move your magnetic knight up the walls using ledges to avoid the guards (they'll send you back down the board) and rolling 3 dice, one to tell you how many spaces to move the first guard (on the first landing), one to tell you how many spaces to move the second guard (on the second landing) and one to tell you how many spaces to move your own piece.  If you're really lucky, you'll roll that each of the guards has fallen asleep! (They can't get you if they're sleeping on the job.) 
The game isn't hard to assemble- although helpful hint, you'll want to turn the pieces to line up with the slots (it's really obvious if you're not 12 and just trying to jam it together in a hurry!) in the correct way.  It took us all of a minute to assemble the castle.  

Playing this game isn't really all that complicated.  You could actually play with much younger children if you wanted to remove one of the guards.  What makes it complicated is the strategy portion- where can you move so that you don't get sent back down to the bottom.  It's not quite chess-level strategy, but your children will quickly learn to think ahead a few moves and consider where the guards will be if they get the maximum number of moves each turn versus if they're sleeping each turn.  

In addition to the Climbing Knights, SimplyFun has several other games that you and your children might enjoy playing.  These are some of their newest releases! 

SimplyFun Review
We enjoyed this fun, 3D game and both my 8 and 10 year old think your kids will really love it, too! My 12 year old enjoyed playing with his siblings, but he can win the game in about 14 seconds, so we all think it's a little too easy for him.  Check out the full SimplyFun line and plan a family game night today! 
I was one of several reviewers for The Climbing Knights, and there were also families that tried out Archery Dice.  Click the link below to see what others thought about these fun, thought-involved games! 
SimplyFun Review
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Review: Home School in the Woods US Elections Lap-pak

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Published: 02/19/2016
As you guys have no doubt figured out, we do politics at my house.  I work for a politician, my eldest stumps for one each election, and living in the DC-metro area, our local news is full of politics.  We're excited for the presidential election like some of you are excited for the Super Bowl.  That's why I was excited when I got the chance to check out Home School in the Woods' HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-on History Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections.
This product is suggested for grades 3-8 and is a great, in-depth look at US Elections.  Whether you're a homeschooler or your kid is just really interested in the elections process (or maybe you've never paid attention before!) this gives you a fantastic wealth of information on how it all works. 
I was initially a little hesitant about the fact that this is a lap book.  We know people that lap book everything they learn and love it, but we've tried lap books before and they have resulted in a good deal of crying.  However, our last attempt was when the boys were a little younger, so putting two years on them and having it be a subject they're really interested in made me feel brave. 
I used the download version (there is also a CD) and I initially had a little trouble figuring out all the pieces and how to print everything, but I did get it figured out (in about 10 minutes- it didn't take long) and we were able to step through each lesson.  We printed the lap book components in one shot, which if I had it to do over, I wouldn't do.  I'd print each day's component as we did the lesson.  We're only halfway through, so I still could, actually.  If the papers get out of order at all it can be confusing, so that's why I'd do it one at a time. We printed the whole reading text as a book, although you also have the option to print it as notebook pages.
Each lesson has a narration, and I enjoyed the reader's excited, engaging voice.  We've got a few other lessons on CD where the reader has lulled me into a mid-afternoon cat-nap, which is not conducive to getting things done! There are about 60 minutes of audio that are the read-along text, so you could honestly knock this out in a day if you had nothing else to do and your kids really enjoy lap-booking. Since my kids only really like doing a few components of the lap book at a time and this is a supplement to our regular history, we're breaking it up into pieces, which the website version makes really easy since the audio and lap book component are listed together in sections.  There are 21 "projects" and we're doing 2 at a time, which works out since there's also a front cover (22! evenly divisible by 2!) so we plan on taking 11 school days to finish this, or a little over 2 weeks.  As I mentioned, you could easily make this shorter, and you could also stretch it over 21 days, if you wanted. I really appreciated that there was an entire section on suffrage.  I think that it's important to realize what a right and privilege it is to vote.  We're getting ready to start on "The Presidential Platform", but some other topics include raising money, caucuses and primaries, the electoral college, and three branches of government.  This product really does a fantastic job of covering all aspects of Elections from soup to nuts. 
We've been doing each component and then putting it into a folder with the plan to assemble the lap book when we're done with everything, so I don't have a completed project to show you, but here is a sample of what it will look like when we're done: 
There are directions on how to assemble everything, so don't be intimidated at all.  Each of the folder pages has a front and a back (there's a lot of information!) and you could certainly assemble as you went, we just opted not to do it that way.  Their favorite component so far has been the "who do we vote for" spinner, even though I didn't print it on different colored paper (which is what the instructions say to do).  I'll update this post later when we're all finished so you can see our actual lap book.  We are definitely enjoying this lap-pak and plan to continue all the way through lesson 21 so that by the time the actual election comes around we are well-versed in how the whole process works!! 
Riley's preference was to listen while he colored.

I reviewed this product with my 6th grade and 4th grade sons.  My 2nd grade daughter was very interested in having a "project book", so I'll have to look into some other Home School in the Woods options for her! Both boys are very confident readers, but they like listening to the audio files and working on the lap book component while they listen.  I've enjoyed listening along, too, and refreshing my own knowledge of our electoral system!
I was one of many reviewers for this product, so you can read about how others used it by following the link below:
U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review
I did receive this product free of charge, but all opinions, as always, are my own.
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Review: Yearly Membership

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Published: 01/07/2016
I know that not all of you homeschool, but I know that a lot of you come to me for advice about homeschooling, so this year I took advantage of an opportunity to work with the Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Review Crew to bring you guys some fresh ideas on making education work at your home.  If you don't homeschool, there's still tons of information available here that you could use to supplement what your child is getting at school, fill in a gap in their learning, or meet a need for an interest they have that isn't being met in the classroom. 

So, now that we all know what's going on here....

My first invitation was to review's Yearly Membership.  This amazing subscription service offers over 200 courses from preschool through 12th grade.  There are classes on everything from math to computers to Bible to foreign language.  There's nutrition and fitness, geography, science, and even art! Now, as far as value goes, I think it says it all with the foreign language.  If you're teaching foreign language at home, or if you need a little extra help for your student, you can't beat the price of simply based on their courses in languages! You can join for $12.95 a month, or you can join for $139 for the year.  A certain language course you can purchase that's named after a famous rock (ahem, not naming names) is $99 for one level!

What I was particularly excited about, though, was art.  When we lived in Woodbridge we took homeschool art classes, which were fantastic, although with three kids the costs definitely stacked up.  Now that we're in Manassas, art instruction all falls directly on my shoulders, and let me just tell you I stink at it.  I was never a particularly enthusiastic art student, and while I enjoy a good craft for me, I find making art with the kids to be stressful! I'm never sure how things will turn out, I don't really have great ideas, and I just haven't really been doing as well as I could have with them in this area.

SchoolhouseTeachers Review 2016
Courses are broken down for art by Elementary, Middle, and High School.  Everything is pre-recorded, so you can take lessons in any order, take a break, skip ahead, whatever works for you.  Since two of my kids are elementary and one is 6th grade, I decided we'd go ahead and try one of the Elementary options, which include South African Art Appreciation, Art Techniques, Elementary Art, and Everyday Easels.

We ended up going with Elementary Art, which offers an initial twelve unit lesson on Great Artists. These are very simple and easy art lessons that I can add into our day without a lot of fuss or struggle- which is important with our schedule! I love that they're really "grab and go" and designed to use what you already have.  Our Michelangelo unit, for example, gave us just a paragraph or so of background on the artist, samples of his work to look at, and a suggestion for an art project we could complete with materials that were already in our house! Brilliant.  I love that these can really be a "oh, we have time- let's do a quick art lesson".

Savannah is drawing on paper taped to the chair- we learned about Michelangelo and this was the suggested project to replicate drawing on ceilings- minus the scaffolding!
This was a big hit for me and my younger two, but my middle schooler was not impressed.  Too easy, he declared.

Riley loves oil pastels- that's a tomato and two peaches
Well, fine.  Since the subscription covers everything on the site, we'll just switch you to something else! For him, we ended up selecting "Art Techniques" which offers various 4 module lessons on different media.  Riley really likes chalk and oil pastels, so we decided to start there.  I like that these lessons are written to the student.  They tell them what materials they'll need, and they walk them through the procedure for what they are to do.  Oil pastels moved Riley from sketching the basic lines of a picture (day one) to a fully finished art work (day four).  Since he can read the lessons himself and use the teacher's examples for what he's supposed to have accomplished by the end of the lesson, this is really something he can do in his down time between lessons.
Next up, we are really excited to try the keyboarding and computer science options! I think that there is a bit of something for everyone on, and we're really looking forward to exploring it all as we have the opportunity! I think over the summer it will be really fun to let everyone pick their own unit of study for enrichment.  I am 100% positive my middle child will be taking Geology (there's 2 units!) and will be super excited about it! Review 2016
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Giveaway: DPGolf Academy

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Published: 09/03/2015
We're super excited about all of the great fall options at DPGolf Academy! They include after-school, family lessons, classes for adults, and even homeschool classes!

This week, DPGolf Academy is offering a super fun giveaway for our readers! Use the Rafflecopter to enter to win! 

One winner will be randomly selected to win either: One (1) Free 30-minute private golf lesson with Terry Collins OR a 50% off Coupon for After School or Home School class registration for your child.

So much fun! Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A reminder that by entering you agree to be bound by our giveaway rules. Good luck!

By Popular Demand- Our 2015/2016 School Choices

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Published: 08/21/2015
Because enough of you have asked what curriculum we're using this year that I've found myself keeping it up in a Word document so that I don't have to keep typing it, I'm going to put it here.  None of these are affiliate links, I don't get anything if you buy their stuff, I just don't want people emailing to ask me where to get them, so I'm saving a step :)

Singapore Math (for the 2 elementary students)
Teaching Textbooks (for the middle schooler)

Apologia Land Animals (I don't like this as much as I like the Apologia Chemistry and Physics we did last year, but I do like our science coop, so we're going to keep on keeping on)

History/Social Studies:
Sonlight American History Year 2
US States, Capitals, and major geological features

IEW at Harvester Teaching Services.  We get the books here and take the classes here.
My kids will (hopefully- one is wait listed) be in Ready, Set, Write, IEW 2, and Advanced IEW.
Grammar Revolution at Harvester- they use the Get Smart Grammar series. Spelling is taught in this class, as well.
My youngest is taking a reading class at Harvester, which includes spelling.  Our History curriculum includes both read aloud and co-curriculur reading books with it, so they mostly do those although we have a couple of "must reads" that go on our list, too.  Because of our literature rich history, they are allowed to pick generally anything they want for personal reading time each day as long as it's at or above their reading level.
We use Handwriting Without Tears and Typing Without Tears.  It is not always necessarily tear-free, but I like it.

Foreign Language:
We have a tutor who comes to our home and teaches us Arabic.  Surprisingly, this bothers a lot of people who want to know why we aren't learning Spanish.  I took 6 years of French and 3 years of Russian, which I loved.  I wanted to take a new language with my kids, and my interests were Chinese (because there are a lot of people who speak it!) and Arabic (because I have a degree in comparative religious studies with a lot of focus on Abrahamic traditions).  The Chinese tutor was $120 an hour.  The Arabic tutor was $40.  We are taking Arabic.

Physical Education:
We have a sport going at all times, in addition to daily movement of one type or another (bike rides, walks, swims, yoga).  This year we'll have one in gymnastics, one in swim, and one in hockey.

All three kids take lessons at Jessica's Music Studio.  Because I was a dumb choir student who never learned to really read music.  Also, because I am lazy.

My 2nd grader will be taking a class in Art, my 4th grader is taking cooking, and my 6th grader is opting to do a speed math class because he really wants to do Algebra in 7th grade.

What about socialization??
This question makes me ill.  But, in addition to going to coop, classes at Harvester, and you know, interacting with people on a daily basis, we have a kid in Scouts, a kid doing theatre, and a kid doing...well, everything because she can't nail it down to one thing.  Trust me, they see people.

What about testing??
Under Virginia law, there are several options for filing as a homeschooler and several options for showing proof of progress.  You can read about that here. We do Stanford Achievement Testing every year.

Homeschoolers: Free Social Skills Intro Session at In Step

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Published: 05/07/2015
Homeschoolers: Free Social Skills Intro Session at In Step

In Step is now offering Stepping Stones™ Social Skills training groups for our homeschool families…during the day! Work with like-minded families at a time that is convenient to your schedule, and without the stress of rush hour.

We know you have questions and so we’re holding a free information session and introductory group for kids and parents on May 16th at 11:30am in our Fairfax office.

Cathi Cohen LCSW, CGP, director of In Step and author of Raise Your Child’s Social IQ, will talk with the parents about the types of kids we see, the structure and treatment approaches employed in the group, and the kinds of results you can expect with practice and participation.

While the parents are in their group, the children will also be in a group with Carrie Field, LCSW, RPT and CC White LPC, two of our experienced, licensed child leaders introducing them to the basics of joining in. Just like Stepping Stones, both parents and kids meet at the same time, in separate groups.At the end of the session, our child leaders will come into the parent group to offer feedback and give parents some practical tools to work on at home.

This session is free and space is limited. Please click here to sign up.

Homeschool Hockey Skills Class 2014 Fall Season

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Published: 09/11/2014
The Home School Hockey Skills Class is now available for registration on-line at and at the Guest Services desk at the Prince William Ice Center.  This class is meant to be a fun PE style class where participants learn both hockey skills and skating skills.
Our new Head Coach, Andy Newton will conduct our classes this year.  Coach Andy brings a wealth of unique coaching experience that will be a huge asset for your hockey player.  Coach Andy has coached players of all ages and is currently the head coach for the Potomac Patriots Junior Elite Team.  He has taken teams to National Championship Tournaments and has the experience to develop both our Home School Hockey Program and your hockey player to better meet their potential.  In addition to his coaching skills, Andy also brings the opportunity to introduce a variety of guest coaches to your player, offering a more individualized coaching opportunity.
Age:  The average age is 5-13; however, it is open to all ages.  The only requirement is that the child will stay with the group and follow instructions.  In the past we have had beginners and advanced skaters in the class.  Also, this class is for both boys and girls.
The class will run for 8 weeks on Wednesday from Sept 10 – Oct 29 at 10:30 to 11:30.
There will also be an 8-week class on Tuesdays also from Oct 7 – Nov 25 at 10:20 to 11:20.
Price: $168.00 for the 8 classes.  They will pro-rate for 1 missed class if you let them know at the time of registration.
Homeschool Class Bonus:  Free Stick-N-Shoot after class (a $120 value).
Directly following class, players can stay and practice during the Stick-N-Shoot session or Public Session for free.  The free Stick-N-Shoot and the Public Session is for the same day only and it cannot roll over to the other sessions or days if they are not able to use it then. Rink management just asks that players sign-in the child will stay with the group and follow instructions.  In the past we have had beginners and advanced skaters in the class.  Also, this class is for both boys and girls.
The class will run for 8 weeks on Wednesday from Sept 10 – Oct 29 at 10:30 to 11:30.
There will also be an 8-week class on Tuesdays also from Oct 7 – Nov 25 at 10:20 to 11:20.
Price: $168.00 for the 8 classes.  They will pro-rate for 1 missed class if you let them know at the time of registration.
Homeschool Class Bonus:  Free Stick-N-Shoot after class (a $120 value).
Directly following class, players can stay and practice during the Stick-N-Shoot session or Public Session for free.  The free Stick-N-Shoot and the Public Session is for the same day only and it cannot roll over to the other sessions or days if they are not able to use it then. Rink management just asks that players sign-in in the book at the front desk and write lesson pass on the page and indicate if they have private lessons (as usual). 
Rental gear is available through the pro-shop at the rink.  If you don't have your own gear, I recommend going into the pro-shop to be fitted for gear on a day before lessons start.  In the end it costs $20 to rent the gear for the entire 8-week class session.  They require a $70 deposit when you receive the gear and then they refund $50 back to when you return the gear at the end of the entire 8 class session.

Prince William Ice Arena
5180 Dale Blvd.
Woodbridge, VA 22193
Phone: 703-730-8423

Homeschool Info Session Recap

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Published: 04/25/2014
I am so thankful for the wonderful ladies and gentleman who sat on our homeschool panel! I obviously should've planned for more time since the librarians at Chinn were not-so-gently telling us that we didn't have to go home, but we couldn't stay THERE at closing time! Thank you also to all of you that came out! I hope that the info session was helpful.  Here's what I have for you.

1) If you want to homeschool, you have to submit a Notice of Intent to Prince William County by August 15th.  This is NOT a dissertation, just a very basic list of subjects you will teach and how you are filing. You can find all the county information on homeschooling HERE.

2) You can do this.  Nobody loves your kids more than you. Know why you're doing it, how you are doing it, and then just do it.  Go team. #Awesome.  Sparkles, Unicorns, etc.

3) Some days will suck.  Hard.  Keep going.  You can do this.

4) Co-ops are awesome, or, you don't need a co-op.  Your choice.

5) Some co-ops include:
Homeschool Melting Pot
Woodbridge Eclectic Homeschool Co-op navygirlsunshine(at)yahoo(dot)com
Several others are closed, but if you'd like to add yours just email me!

Then I polled the audience!!

1) What's your favorite curriculum?
Right Start Math
Teaching Textbooks- Math
Singapore Math
Math on Level
Peace Hill Press Language Arts
Easy Grammar
Explode the Code
Handwriting Without Tears
Prarie Primer
Brave Writer
Reading Eggs (Online)
Tapestry of Grace
Spectrum Workbooks
Story of the World
Getting Started With Latin
Answers in Genesis (with stars around it)
(I can tell you right now I both love and hate several of these! The beauty is that you can pick what you like!!)

2) What's your favorite Group? (Online or Real)
Homeschool Melting Pot (Facebook)
VA Eclectic Homeschoolers (Yahoo)
NOVA Unschoolers (Yahoo)
Classical Conversations (which I personally only recommend on a director-by-director basis)
The Well Trained Mind Online Group
VA Homeschoolers
Woodbridge Eclectic Homeschool Coop

3) Favorite Homeschool Classes
Homeschool PE at the Freedom Center
Woodbrdige Eclectic Homeschool Coop
Homeschool Soccer at Courage Sports Woodbridge
Homeschool Band
Homeschool Theatre
Mr. Dunn's HS Interactive Computer Classes
Cub Scout Pack 1189
Edgemoor Art Studio
Homeschool Swimming at Chinn

4) What's your favorite "Have To Share"?
*Know WHY you have chosen to homeschool
*RELAX and enjoy the ride!
*Do NOT try to recreate the classroom at home!
*Get outside! More field trips!
*Know why you homeschool.  Enjoy it! Be flexible.
*Use the library as much as possible
*USED curriculum!
*It's not as complicated as you think it is.
*, the dollar store is great and everything is a buck!
*Keep Breathing :)
*Enjoy the time you are spending with your children because it'll fly before you know it!
*Take it one day at a time!

I think that I'm going to schedule another meetup for homeschoolers and those considering for June- would you be interested? I'm thinking this would be a "featured homeschool parent" who would talk and take questions, and then some breakout groups for more one on one discussion and Q&A.  Let me know if you'd like to come and what you'd like to see discussed!

Sponsored Post: Hockey for Homeschoolers

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Published: 11/03/2013
Prince William Ice Center, 5180 Dale Blvd in Woodbridge, will be offering their HomeSchool Hockey Skills class again!  We had several friends that took advantage of this PE option last year, and had a great time!

This class is specifically designed to give home school children the opportunity to experience and learn the fundamentals of the game in a fun environment.  Rental gear is available- please arrive 45 minutes prior to the first lesson to be fitted for gear.

$147/7 Weeks, StickNShoot following the class is included in the fee (Stick and Shoot is typically $15, so that's a $105 value right there!)

Wednesdays, November 6-December 18
Classes 11/6 and 12/4 will be 10-11am

Not a homeschooler? No worries! Prince William Ice Center has various classes for kids who'd like to skate or play hockey on weeknights and weekends, too!

Guest Post: Last-Minute Back to School Shopping

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Published: 08/25/2012
Thanks to Laura Harders, AKA Beltway Bargain Mom, for following up with us on her input to about back to school shopping!

Back-to-School shopping can be stressful and expensive, and perhaps you've been putting it off to the last possible moment. Whether you've been dreading *or delighting* in the back-to-school frenzy, I want to encourage you not to panic! Here in Prince William County, the public schools start back up the day after Labor Day, so you still have some time to get in gear for the school year. In case you need to do some shopping still or want to donate supply items on-the-cheap to local charities or organizations like Operation Christmas Child, I'm here to help! Here are my top 7 savings tips to help you with your last-minute back-to-school shopping:
  1. Shop in your house first.If your child has supplies from last year that are still good this year, like scissors, colored pencils, highlighters, ruler, calculator, etc, you don't need to buy new ones. Check your supply closet or craft drawer for items you already have.
  2. Stick to your list.Check your school's website for your supply list by grade, so you know the exact supplies you need. After you "shop" in your house, then make a list of the items you need to buy.
  3. Shop the sales.There are still some great deals to be had! The office supply stores have many 1-cent deals or 50%+ deals on back-to-school supplies. Take advantage of these sales and stock up.
  4. Use Coupons.You'll find many school supply coupons in your Sunday paper as well as printable coupons online. Also, some stores accept competitor coupons as well.
  5. Drug Stores & Office Supply Stores.Check out the drug stores & office supply stores for deals. Look at the weekly circulars for extreme deals such as Staples 1-cent Extreme Deals, and free-after-rebate items. You may not think of the drug store or office supply stores as your center for back-to-school deals, but they have quite a few!
  6. Price match.Take advantage of stores that price match, such as Office Depot, Staples, Target and Walmart. If a hot sale item is out-of-stock at a store and they don't offer a rain check, you can take your store ad/circular to a competitor that price matches to get the same deal. Price-matching can also help you save time, by combining shopping trips into 1 stop at a single store for that week's sale items.
  7. Go plain.If your child is intent on buying name brand or "official" rockstar/sports team/super hero branded gear, encourage them to buy a plain/generic item and decorate. You can buy stickers, patches and other DIY items on the cheap at your local craft store to help give notebooks, binders, backpacks, lunch boxes, etc. a personal touch.
Credit: Amber Seat Photography

Laura Harders lives in Prince William County and is a native Northern Virginian who loves to share ways to save. She runs the blog and teaches local Savings Nation coupon workshops. You can find Laura sharing tips & being social on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Reviews: Potomac Overlook Park

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Published: 07/31/2012
I have mommy brain.  My mommy brain syndrome (MBS) is augmented by my technology dependence syndrome (TDS, or, in my case iTDS).  Example?  We showed up for my daughter's dermatology appointment (a 45 minute drive in traffic because while I love PWC, I'm driving to the bets possible doctor our insurance will semi-pay for) only to sit for 30 minutes before the semi-rude receptionist reminded me that I cancelled this appointment when I made an earlier one for before we left for the beach.

My MBS apparently prevented me from removing that from my iCal, so when my iAlarm went off, iGotIntheCar and iDrove to the appointment.  Hence the iTDS kicker.

Being that I am also spontaneous, and had skipped swim team practice, we opted to iMap our way over to Potomac Overlook Regional Park and check out what it had to offer before doing the same thing back down i66, err, I-66, to head to a library event back down in our neck of the woods.

Potomac Overlook is located at 2845 North Marcey Road, Arlington, Virginia.  It is absolutely gorgeous for hiking, as well as having a beautiful nature center, concerts, a solar-powered outdoor stage, roving naturalists, community gardens, and canoe trips. 

We've been to Potomac Overlook once before, and we enjoyed the well-shaded hiking, especially since with water shoes on we could enjoy keeping our feet cool in the creek/river that flows through the park.  Throwback photo evidence:

Okay, so they didn't like their water shoes.  I admit, I am that horrible parent that lets my children experience the world barefoot whenever they want and my husband isn't yelling.  I don't like shoes, either, so I get it.
 In this picture my kids are 15 months, 3, and 5.  I'm wearing sporting an awesome blue Moby Wrap.  If you don't have a Moby Wrap and you have a baby or are about to have a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) baby, you should stop reading this NOW and go buy one.  I'll wait. No, they're not paying me, either.
I am also that mom that lets her kid swim in the deep pool he finds.  It was warm that day.  He had an amazing time and the water was clear so that you could see straight to the bottom.  I realize this doens't mean it was clean, but it looked like it, so there.

This time, however, we never made it that far since by the time we arrived it was already 108 degrees outside.  Walking from the parking lot to the nature center, we noticed there is a fun hike with signs for each planet placed at representative distances along the path.  They include fun facts like how much a person of a certain weight (I want to say it was 100 pounds) would weigh on each planet.  On your left hand side, you'll also see the solar-powered outdoor theatre as well as an eletctric car filling station.  Trees and rocks along this main path are also labeled for your viewing pleasure. 

By the time we arrived at the nature center, my middle child informed me that he was dying, and I informed him that the nature center is air conditioned, at which point he summoned the will power to go on the three steps to the door.  It was magical.

By the way, now that my kids are 4, 6, and 8, their lives exist soley on my iphone because I'm not good enough to carry a camera, so I hope that you enjoyed the nice, clear pictures above because now we're switching back to my typical low-quality cell phone pictures.

The nature center includes a fun mix of energy saving information along with a living bee colony, live turtles, frogs and snakes, as well as some stuffed local species, skulls, and skeletons and fossils to look at.  The upper level is mostly non-living, although there is a turtle and two snakes, and the lower level is mostly snakes and frogs, along with a children's cave area, which was fun to hang around in for a few minutes even if it wasn't very large.
 The children's area included boards to make your own "cave drawings" sounds of a cave on a phone, and space to sit and read books or play with toys.  It'd be a good place to cool off and calm down on a hot day.
 There's also a lower-level educational room, which was completely devoid of people on the day we went, but looked like it must be used for field trips and scout groups.  There were some fish in the tank as well as stuffed bird and small mammal species. 
Ooooh, something stuffed.  Fun.  My kids love anything about animals, so they thought this nature center was fantastic.  It's definitely small enough that you can do it in a morning and still have time for a hike, even if you read everything in the nature center, but I enjoy that about it.

It was after this picture that my phone died.  It was sad.  So, not pictured are the community garden, Indian-themed circular garden, or the live birds of prey that are a short walk across from the nature center.  These are previously injured owls and hawks that cannot be returned to the wild due to the extent of their inuries, and you do get a very close look at them.  The owls were especially beautiful, and, as a bonus, I found a 4 foot black snake on the trail on the way up! How fantastic!

Fine, I freaked out.  But the boys thought it was amazing.

This is a great local field trip, and we enjoyed both of our visits.  Check out Potomac Overlook Regional Park for your next hike or nature event!

Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Recommended for: Any age, really.  Lots of walking, but getting to/from the nature center is stroller-friendly.  There is a long hill that is not particularly handicap-accessible, I would talk to the park rangers about the possibility of being allowed to drive to the center itself if that's an issue for your.  Older children will enjoy the various themed areas and hiking.

Pros: Free! Lots of different interests addressed.  Live and stuffed animal species, lots of labeled plants and rocks with information on species.

Cons: Nature center is somewhat small, parking is removed from areas of interest.

Meet Hallabolou

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Published: 07/18/2012

Hallabolou is a full service Children’s Enrichment and Event Company.  I first met their owner, Vanessa, at the Chick-Fil-A Fire and Rescue Fest.  I instantly decided that I needed to know the woman with the purple apron and approximately 75 pounds of Legos.  Bright, enthusiastic, and passionate about engaging and enriching children's lives, Vanessa instantly won me over on Hallabolou (a secret message saying hello to her children) and her work there.  Read more about them below, and be sure to check them out on Facebook and their Website, too! They offer classes, after school enrichment, camps, and more!

From the owner:
Our enrichment programs and camps are dedicated to creating an atmosphere that fosters each child’s feeling of autonomy and positive self-image.  From a young age, children are fascinated with the world around them.  Hallabolou uses this fascination to teach life skills and assist children in understanding and expressing their emotions through a creative technique known as the Five Points of Discovery. These points are Imagination, Determination, Commitment, Self-Confidence and Cooperation. Through our offerings of bRiK Programs or Learning Levels we teach STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. We enrich their experiences by also providing a Dance and Movement program, Educational Cooking for Kids, Theater and Art.

Help for Homeschoolers

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Published: 05/07/2012
In the past few weeks I've had a few reader questions about homeschool resource groups/homeschooling in general/homeschool curriculum.  I'm not an expert, but I'm sharing what I know.  If you are someone that finds homeschooling offensive or dumb, you're welcome to stop reading 3 sentences ago :) For those of you that would like this information, please continue on.  

This year I became one of "those crazy homeschool people".  Yup, that's me.  "Kristina That Crazy Homeschool Person".  It's on my business cards.

In the process, I learned that a great deal of whether or not you succeed has to do with both your personal commitment to excellence, whatever your definition of excellence may be, and your successful implementation of a support system.  

Without boring you with too many details we are primarily a classical-model homeschool family, although we do use a more worksheet-based math program (Singapore).  If you'd like to hear more about how we homeschool (and please note that I'm not expert, it's only been 1 year!), or why we homeschool, I'm happy to share those details with you via email.

That being said, no matter your approach, there is a group of people out there that want to help you succeed and your child thrive.

I.  Prince William County Public Schools
I actually cannot comment on whether they care if you succeed or not, but I can tell you that they need to be your first stop.  PWC requires you to fill out an "Intent to Homeschool" form.  This is NOT A MASTER'S THESIS or a senior dissertation.  They just want to know how you're filing (parental ability, correspondence program, religious exemption, medical necessity, whatever) and what curriculum you'll be using.  You don't need to submit a lesson plan, a manifesto on why you're homeschooling, or copies of your textbooks.  You will need to provide proof of progress, and re-file each year.  Additionally, you should know that middle and high-school students are permitted to partially enroll in up to two classes, and that partially-enrolled students who meet all other requirements may participate in after school activities and sports, excluding VHSL sports, but including Varsity Club.  

Both of these groups offer support, information, and advocacy.  HSLDA is a great resource if you run into resistance, or are interested in increasing homeschool access to tax-provided resources. I did not need to use my HSLDA membership this year, but had a friend who was very happy to have it in dealing with a particular issue. 

III. Homeschool Groups, Christian
You don't need to be religious to homeschool, but I know that many people are.  I'm breaking it down, therefore, by groups that you may want to include or disclude yourself from depending on your family situation.
**Classical Conversations is both a curriculum and a highly-developed and dependable co-op with paid directors and trained tutors.  It's international, so if you move frequently, this may be a good option as the entire CC world is doing the same thing at the same time, so moving families can just plop in right where they left off.  Fees vary by campus.  There are several campuses in our area and the range from 4's-High School.
**FISHE offers soccer, testing, monthly meetings and more.  It is inter-denominational. 
**LDS Homeschoolers serves greater NOVA homeschoolers who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 
**REACH is Christian-led but open to anyone, and focuses on field trips and conferences. 
**WHEAT offers classes, testing, field trips, coops and parent support.  

IV.  Homeschool Groups, Religious, Non-Christian
**Heathen Homeschoolers, primarily for those that identify as Pagan, Agnostic, UU, but atheists and agnostics, and label-defyers are welcome, too. 
**Online support groups are available for everything from Adventist-Zoroastrian (okay, maybe not Zoroastrian, but I needed a Z!) on the VA Homeschool Website

V. Homeschool Groups, Secular, Humanist and/or Atheist
**VA Eclectic Homeschoolers' only rule is there is nothing political or religious allowed, but anyone may join and there is no particular method or ideology required of members. 
**VA Homeschool Resources is open to people of any background, and provides information about the entire state of Virginia and resources for various groups. 
**VA Homeschool Atheists is open to any atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist homeschoolers. 
**VA Gifted Homeschoolers is secular and inclusive for parents homeschooling gifted children in the DC Metro area
**NOVA TAG is a secular group for parents homeschooling "Talendted and Gifted" children.
**Quantico to Fredericksburg Homeschoolers is a secular group for families with at least one child over age 6.  Younger siblings are welcome, but this is NOT a preschool playgroup. 

VI.  Homeschool Sports Leagues

This is by no means an exhaustive list!! Hopefully, though, there are enough groups on here to get you started!  If you're a new homeschooler, my best advice is to read and figure out who your family is and what approach you're taking before you get involved in any groups so that you are staying true to your mission, and not being swayed by more experienced homeschoolers who can make any method sound perfect, which it may be for their family, but may not be for yours!  Also, don't over-book yourself! In our area it can be easy to take a field trip every day, but try to start with one group and see if it's meeting your needs before you move on. Or don't, I could be wrong.

Have additional group or ideas? Leave a comment below.  

Milla's Playland A Play Gym Designed for Parents and Children Aged 10 Months to 4 1/2 Years...