Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Be sure to double check prices and information from the reviews

Many of the reviews on this blog were penned some time ago, and like anything on the internet-things can change quickly.  Be sure to go to the company's main site to verify the product is still available and check the current price.  There are simply too many reviews here for me to go through them all, so you may have to do some investigating of your own.  Thanks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Well my last post is up now and I am officially retired from the TOS crew

It has been a privilege to serve on the crew since it's maiden voyage (2008) up to the end of May 2011.  I have met some totally awesome folks that I consider to be some of my bestest buds; and I have sampled and tested out several amazing homeschool products too.  It was rather bittersweet to pen that last of my reviews and I have to say I shed a tear or two as well.

Before ya all think I am gone for good-oh no way...I will be doing reviews here and there and will be posting them on my main blog if they are not TOS related, here if they are.  I have been asked to review the TOS planner for Special Needs and will be getting that done by mid-summer. I am excited to see just what the planner has to offer-especially since I will be needing it down the road.

If you do not follow my main blog-then you may not be aware of this new season in our lives.  We are feeling led to adopt [Internationally] a special needs child (Down Syndrome) and will be going through Reece's Rainbow to do so. I am very excited about having a new addition come into our family and will be blogging about our story as it unfolds.

I just wanted to thank all of my faithful and new-to-my blog readers. I hope you have found my reviews to be useful in helping you make well-informed decisions, regarding curriculum selections for your family.  I have one more post to do regarding the top products our family enjoyed reviewing, and should have that up soon.  To all the vendors who participated in this wonderful project-Thank You!  We have been blessed by your generosity and we pray the Lord will continue to bless and strengthen your businesses.

Thanks for tagging along on this journey with me~ and don't forget...TOS is continuing the program-they have some great new vendors lined up for the coming year.  Be sure to visit the website for many more reviews.


TOS Crew Review: Read for the Heart from Apologia Press

image from

There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all.
~Jacqueline Kennedy~ 
[Read for the Heart, page 51] 

The infusion of language, into our lives, comes quite naturally at birth. It is the quality behind what we are receiving that is truly the issue.  Is it merely parrot repetition which slowly progresses into every day slang and chatter?  Or is there something more? Could it be a delicate thread of wonderment, discretely hidden deep within the confines of the printed word-whether spoken aloud, or absorbed through our own optical lenses? Does it knit a fanciful world to ponder upon?  Make one cry or jump for joy?  Does it stir a sense of duty, encourage the betterment of the human race or change one's inner core?  Or does the language so utterly fail to do anything other than dumb down and bore one's mind?  Is there a disconnect from what is touted as an excellence of writing [by the author/publisher], compared to how it really creates language depravity in one's mind, and drenches the reader with spiritual or ethical fodder?

Read for the HeartChoosing the right food for the mind [books] is not as simple as one would think.  It is easy to be swept into the flood of mass production, current fads and what not. What you think is great material may actually be nothing more than a cleverly disguised waste of words on paper.  But there is hope and Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkston offers a wealth of information to help guide you along in this daunting process.  Whether you are new to making book selections for your family, or if you are a self-proclaimed bibliophile with several years of collecting under your belt-this is a great resource to have.

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at the Mid-Winter HS Conference in Grand Rapids, MI a few years back (sadly, the year that the space shuttle exploded-so this is very ingrained in my mind).  Now she won't remember me, but I certainly do her.  She seemed to be oozing a love for Christ and that really impressed me.  So I am not surprised to find that she penned herself a wonderful guide to whole books, which expounds the necessity of giving our children good, nourishing literature to build up their minds and souls.

Within the pages, one finds a little personal back story from Sarah's life regarding each area/genre, along with a listing from one to several books written by a wide variety of authors (who meet the qualifications for excellent writing in children's literature), and usually a small ditty regarding the stories themselves. All of this is meant to give you better insight regarding what books you would like to see stuffed onto your own shelves (purchased by you or on loan from your library). Written to allow for you to make the final decisions regarding your collection, this guide will serve you for many years to come.

I personally, was familiar with many of her recommendations and found myself nodding in agreement to them.  I was delighted to see several goodies that I have never had the pleasure to cross paths with; so I now have a nice little list handy to assist me when I am out browsing for "needed" books for our personal library.  I especially appreciate how it is divided into sections [Picture Books, Golden Age Classics, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tale and Fantasy, History and Biography, Spiritual Reading for Children, Poetry, Music/Art and Nature] because I can zero in on just those books meeting my criteria list. As a homeschooling parent (any parent really), it is vital to have good resources and reference material handy to help me be a more informed, successful facilitator of our children's education and growth (mind and body)~Read for the Heart ranks right up there as one of those sources.

To gain a better understanding of what this reference book offers, I recommend you go through the Table of Contents and read the portion of the available chapter on the website.


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Read for the Heart info page
this is for the homeschooling parent to use as a reference

**Don't forget to find out what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. provided me with a free copy of the Read for the Heart book, so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TOS Crew Review: Considering God's Creation by Eagle's Wings

Considering God’s Creation Set

Are you a Lapbooking family?   Do you  teach using notebooking and worksheet pages that enhance the lesson? What about your students?  Do they enjoy hands-on activities, singing (now this is subjective-some kids will and others won't but hey-you don't have to use this option if you don't want to), and exploring additional avenues to find out more on any said subject?  Do you want material that will compare worldly thoughts to Christianity [while remaining in the Christian context, school of thought] in regard to all the amazing goodies contained within our universe, on earth, in creatures and ourselves?   Do you want a science program that is easy to use, and enjoyable for all parties involved -hile being flexible to your schedule? Then this review is for you.  

Not surprisingly, Eagle's Wings has a lovely variety of products, which are Christian/Biblical based and meet the requirements noted above.  I have actually used their Remembering God's Awesome Acts and Remembering God's Chosen Children history/Bible courses with my daughter (and will with my son in the future).  I have to say I LOVE them.  I learned right along with my child and I am quite pleased that the lessons met many of my teaching methods (lapbooking/notebooking/hands-on activities/non-textbook approach) to a "T".  Even though this review is not about those two products, I do encourage you to take a look at them-as I highly recommend the courses. That said, when I found out I was on the list to review the Considering God's Creation-I was so elated!  

Topics Covered:

[Lesson plan example]

I  now have [within my grasp] a curriculum meant to cover a wide variety of subjects which can be taught over a few years.  I can use this as my main backbone (which I will) or as a supplemental component.  The lesson plans themselves are easy to navigate , all the while remaining flexible enough to allow me to pick and choose what fits our situation. Considering God's Creation highlights the main "you should know about this" for elementary to early junior high aged children, making it quite versatile~especially for families with a lot of kids in that age range. I have required my teen to do a few of our lessons, which she enjoyed. Even though it is not meant to be a high school level program, I felt she would benefit from listening to the Bible tie-ins and working on the material too.  I don't think you are ever too old to color, cut and create a fun page with mini-booklets and notes.  She admitted that she learned a few things that her Biology course had failed to mention.  So keep that in mind, because you really can add selections to compliment your older student's basic lessons as well.

This was such a fun page to work on.  The addition of the salt to represent the pollen was quite clever! Since we are always working on nature study-this particular lesson just begged for us to do it.   I love how it is a 3-D display of the flower-very eye catching and appealing.
They also have an AWESOME sheet where the kids can circle different parts of a plant or tree they are looking at and draw their finding-which is a great Charlotte Mason way to cover nature study.  I will be using these forms over and over again. It makes it so much easier and lessens the stress of having to draw it all themselves.

Where were we? Oh yes...we had just finished up my son's science book, and I was really trying to figure out what to do next.  I was feeling a bit burned out on the current model, and so was he.  We needed something new and refreshing and more our style.  Considering God's Creation is the perfect fit, especially since it grafts onto the Charlotte Mason method quite nicely.  I have decided to play a bit of hopscotch with it-grabbing components from a few lessons here and there, to mesh into my own concoction of a unit right now.  We have been working on birds this whole year.  We have studied John J. Audubon as our artist (and you know he loved his birds) and focused a lot of our nature study around them.  So I pulled out the sections that directly discussed the charming critters, so that we can tie all of this together to finish our bird study.  

These beauties will go into their Bird Study Notebook
 that they have been compiling.
CGC had 3 lessons on birds, but there were also 
mini-sections found throughout the text, 
regarding them so I just zeroed in on those to make my 
own unit study which is perfect for our 
interests and needs right now.

I found most of the  lessons to be amble enough for my son's ability and age-others will need to wait until he is a bit older because I really want to go into more depth with those.  Obviously, we have not done all of them (good grief! I am not that crazy to try to cram a few year's worth into a couple months) but I have pretty much read through the book to see which topics I want to cover this coming semester/year. There are a couple areas that I want to stretch out over several weeks-so I am planning on adding [from my vast collection of materials] some extra reading selections and activities (but that is the beauty of this program) to round them out.  As for the lessons we did accomplish-they were short enough to not bog him down with too many details, and offered enough hands on mini-booklets and notebooking to keep him occupied while he remained engaged and interested. 

This is not your usual science program (you know the type), as it is not crammed with stuff that makes the student's head swim and practically drowns them in useless data.  Rather, this is a gentler, Christ-centered program which allows you to head out to sea for a long exploration, or stick close to shore to do a mini-unit of study and call it a day.  The pack comes with the Teacher's Manual (and a CD with all the songs/poems on it-which is a fun way to memorize and cover the details) along with one student workbook-all of which is unabashedly Christian in nature.  I suggest you read the FAQ section to help you get a better understanding of this particular curricula, before you decide whether it is right for your family.  I have to say that for us-Considering God's Creation is one the most favorite products we reviewed this year.  So yep-I certainly do recommend this science program from Eagle's Wings Educational Ministries.  


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$29.95 for set (TM, ST WKBK, CD)
You can make copies of the pages for your students-and I suggest making a ton of the plant/tree fact finding sheets...but you really should purchase a workbook for each student. The printer ink cost will be more than just buying a wkbk all ready to go
$13.99 for each additional student workbook

Grades 2-7th

**Don't forget to read what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew homepage.

***Eagle's Wings Educational Material provided me with a free Considering God's Creation pack (TG/St Text/CD), so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TOS Crew Review: Mad Dog Math

With a name like Mad Dog, you may be envisioning some rabid, foaming at the mouth of a mutt who could wonder onto your property at any moment.  Well, calm your beating heart, and put down the phone as there is no need for animal control with this product. What I'm talking about here is a most useful, online fact mastery program, meant to defeat that monster of a thing which is better known as the "arithmetic basics" of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

It certainly barks [for real, you'll hear Ruff the pooch now and again-depending on what you click] but it doesn't bite.  Mad Dog Math is meant to gently break down each level of the four basic areas, into little kibblet sizes, so the student can focus on just one section at a time. The ultimate goal of course, is to have them rattle off their facts without any hesitation.

By no means flashy-but certainly effective-the opportunity to be awarded the "2 Minute Club" sticker encourages the student to practice this rather mundane task.  Then, the the child is naturally motivated to keep working on their facts [sort of like a dog's need to keep digging for that long lost bone] so they can add the "1 Minute" and then the "30 Second Club" sticker to their collections, ultimately earning them the "Top Dog" title. Timed or not, for 10-15 minutes a day-the results are impressive.

My Boy's Experience:

Right from the start, he was engaged and delighted by the prospect of having a new program to test out.  I cannot believe the [great] timing of this product, as I had literally been wondering out loud how I could help him get his facts down pat in a friendly, non-frustrating manner just days prior to receiving it.  Once I loaded up the puppy (oh so sorry I must add in a few play on words here), I gave him the general run down, and he was off and running.  I purposely adjusted it so that he was not timed.  I didn't want him to be all panicky like, but I did show him that it was a possibility and he could add that in when he felt he was ready.  

He has been spending about 15 minutes a day in several of the sections (he moves around from addition to subtraction to multiplication-but has avoided the division for the most part), and I have seen his little face light up when he earns a sticker or a check mark in the list of accomplished facts.  He is learning them!  He and I both agree that we like how he can type in the answer to the problem and it automatically takes him to the next one, making the moving along process smooth and non-annoying.  And like the lazy virtual dog owner that I am-I can just do an occasional walk by to see how the boy and Ruff are doing [and that puts a smile on my face] because this is a pretty self-sufficient program.  Ya gotta love that.

Now, like I mentioned, it isn't the most flashy program on the market, but that is OK.  I am pleased with it because there is no need for a circus event every time I want my child to learn something-especially something as necessary as basic math fact retention. If it works, it works. And the Mad Dog Math program works quite nice for my fam.

"Atta boy ole Ruff! Atta boy!"  


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$19.99 One year license
$29.99 Two year license
$39.99 Perpetual license
K to 5th or for students needing practice with basic math facts (+, -, x and /)
**Please be sure you understand your computer's bit version capability is (32 or 64), because you will need to know that to order the proper program for your system. Visit the site for more information regarding this.

**Don't forget to read what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Mad Dog Math provided me with a free 12 week subscription to Mad Dog Math online so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.

Monday, May 16, 2011

TOS Crew Review: WonderMaps by Bright Ideas Press

Geography, oh geography-where would we be without knowing our geography?  Lost, I tell ya.  And frankly, many students are totally clueless when it comes to knowing even the basic information regarding our planet's massive God made/man made topography [continents, rivers, lakes, oceans, mountain ranges, canals] and the multitude of countries or states, along with other various important nuggets of info.  

But like some super hero right out of the comics-

"It's a bird, a plane..."
"No wait! It's a digital map factory sworn to protect
 the integrity of your child's internal GPS system!"

Available in either a CD or via a download, WonderMaps is a relative new comer to the market.  Designed to be customized by you, to suit your educational needs.  There are 350 different maps available, of which I am sure could be assimilated into several of your daily lessons (and by that I mean anywhere from your history to science to artist/composer, to USA/world studies, to Shakespeare or Bible courses) on a regular basis.

These are categorized into 4 subsections:
Worlds/Continents/Regions/Nations, the USA, Historical and Thematic. 
Digging a bit deeper, one finds the nicely organized, subtitle lists which are noted under each-allowing you to point and click to gain access to the various target group maps. Then, within each individual selection, you can pick and choose just the "layers" (ya like an onion you peel) you do or do not want on it [such as rivers, or individual countries and/or their names], in order to create a more personalized version-before printing it.  What's more, they have their history product line (All American History I/II and Mystery of History) icons to access, with the corresponding maps available [of course] for each unit.  Thankfully, Bright Ideas Press has a lovely tutorial video you can watch to get a clear understanding of how helpful this program is.

Our thoughts:

Now, even though as of late, I have failed to provide the all important cartographical supplements as I should have, I have no excuses anymore. I can easily zip into the program, find one of say-Hernando de Soto's wayward trip [we just visited the museum in Florida where we were introduced to their anti-ability to truly follow normal exploration guidelines] and print off the map for my son to color, highlight and so on. Yes, an activity that will "cement" the lesson/experience for him.  I am actually looking forward to compiling the maps we'll need to cover the Lewis and Clark exploration for our next semester's study-and that too is only a click/print away with the WonderMaps program.  As with any one I of them that I choose, I can tweak it to have just the trip outlined, or add in the current state lines-or whatever I feel it needs to do the study justice.  This is especially great when I want to test the children on their retention skills, because I can leave off the names of things for them to fill in and call that their quiz.  

Since history is our favorite subject, the Historical maps are fast becoming our "popular zone".  I love how they are broken into four time frames (Creation-33AD, 33AD-1437AD, 1457AD-1707AD, and 1708AD-Present) so I can find what I need to match our current studies. Seriously, what a great way to illustrate [and recognize/find] exactly where all this important stuff took place. All I have to do is locate, decide, click/print and stuff into their workboxes. Easy peasy. 

Ah yes, and after my recent little garage sale find-I am going to be dipping into the various world maps that have all the states/countries clearly marked (minus the name labels). I need to create the map cards for the Geografacts game we found, because it is [sadly] missing them.  I can now redeem my dollar purchase by using the WonderMaps collection to fix the errant problem.  Whew.  I would have had to either trash it, or find some other use for it-but alas, no more. 

Before I end this, it would be utterly shameful of me to not mention a gem or two I found within the Teacher's Guide as well. I went there to see just what extra goodies were available and I have to say, the MP3 workshops were a delight to listen to.  I also had fun strolling through the 50 Bright Ideas for Using Outline Maps. Frankly even an old dog such as myself, can use some refreshing new tricks to jazz up my geographical, instruction abilities.  There you have it-a clear winner in this household.  It truly is a super hero defending our best interest and map integrity skills!

Biblical maps are included, hence this notation.
 A huge variety of the maps are benign as well.

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$49.95 for program (CD or download)
all ages K-12 and beyond

**Don't forget to read what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Bright Ideas Press provided me with a free download version of the WonderMaps, so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TOS Crew Review: IEW Student Intensive Writing Pack-level B plus the Portable Wall (a huge review on a huge program)

Before I even begin this review, Mr. Pudewa-if you are reading this-I hang my head in shame.  It is not IEW worthy.  I write my reviews as I would if I were sitting face to face with you, expounding the wonderment or the horrors of a product-not as though I were writing a report or something I would share with the class.  I pray that you will turn a blind eye to my review, as I simply cannot poignantly pen all the check list-ables here.  I love ya man-but I just cannot, as it would just be too much against my front porch, yammering it up with you style.  Oh,  just another nugget of information for you-I love the commas, dashes, the brackets and parenthesis, of which I am sure breaks many grammar and punctuation rules.  I am just that way.

A few years back, my daughter and I were invited to join a group of homeschoolers who were working through a supplementary writing course from the Institute for Excellence in Writing [better known as IEW], and at first, we were rather excited to try out this "new to us" program. Once we started to attend, the charm quickly wore off. It was then, that we began to truly question the process, and the man (some mysterious guy named Andrew Pudewa) behind it.  You see, they (meaning all the other families, say for mine and my friend's) had been using the Student Intensive Writing series for several years.  We had not.  I just didn't get the "why" behind all the Key Word exercises and the rewriting needed, to basically say the same thing. Especially since we got the super shortened, Reader's Digest version of the method on our first day. My daughter and I walked away from that experience with a sour attitude toward IEW.  In fact, I usually did not recommend using it.  I avoided it like the plague, which I now know to be a terrible shame in deed.

When presented with the opportunity to review this, I hesitantly accepted the challenge.  I felt I could give it the "ole college try" (and yes, I meant to imply I would need a drink or two to get through it, even though I don't really consume alcohol); plus at the very least, I would be able to justify my aversion to the program especially if it did back my original opinion of it. Well, wouldn't you know-I am a changed woman.  Yes, I am.  And now that I have your curiosity peaked, regarding how a gal can go from a plague-like aversion to a love for the program in just a few short weeks-here is the reason in a nutshell... 

We missed the foundational explanation of the very fiber of the program. Mr. Pudewa's DVD instruction classes found in the Student Intensive Writing [SIW] course [where we would have received the 'splaining of it all], was a huge  M.I.A. component from our initial experience .  I didn't have access to the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style [TWSS] workshop series either.  We were that proverbial crew up a creek without a paddle.  We drifted along the course without an accurate map, guide  and adequate survival gear. But no more my friends, no more.

I received the B level Combo pack to review, which contains both the SWI and the TWSS set.  This level is geared for your average 6th-8th grade students, but is really a great fit for those who have a wide variety of ages to teach-including high schoolers.  It is consider the "middle ground" course, which certainly contains difficult enough material to suit an older student (who has had no previous exposure to IEW or writing courses in general) because you can tweak it out to require a bit more from them.  It can be watered down enough to meet the needs of a savvy fifth grader too.  So if you have oodles of children to teach, and their age range is somewhere betwixt the upper elementary to high school level, this is a good choice.

Let's take a look-see at each program 
contained within the Combo pack :

The Student Intensive Writing series can be used as a stand alone course if need be, but I don't recommend doing so-the TWSS adds so much to the program. The SIW contains 15 units which can take anywhere from 15-30 weeks to complete.  Each lesson has a section on the DVD which correlates to it, and the necessary material [provided in the student packet/binder] needed to complete the assignment. The included Teacher's Guide lists [gosh it also has the DVD disc times listed to the second for you] all the possible KeyWord choices from the sources, along with additional material to assist the instructor.  The most useful is the suggested schedule. This actually breaks the lessons down into 5 day sections, of varying lengths (some only last 15-20 mins) and lists the homework assignments; so that you can better manage the time spent on the program-which ultimately avoids bored, overstressed new writers.

Starting at the basics [finding Key Words, to writing it in their own words], then gradually working up to more complex skills [such as the ever joyous research paper], the student will fine tune their writing techniques in less than a year.  The ultimate goal is to create within the student, the ability [as in second nature] to take various other source texts, then easily "trim the fat" to rewrite a unique piece of work. Most importantly, doing this without plagiarizing or producing incredibly inadequate "junk".

The lessons are concise; asking just enough of the student to not overwhelm them; yet all the while remaining light-hearted, and fun due to Mr. Pudewa's charming lectures.  All that, and it will stretch the student's writing skills. Furthermore, IEW allows you to advance through the lessons which the child quickly grasps, or to slow down when necessary, for more practice and/or a better understanding of the concept being taught.  After completing this, you can choose to move on to the Continuation course, switch over to theme based supplements, or you can simply continue on with using new sources for inspiration. 

The SWI  B level course covers:

*Key Word Outlines  
*Summary [from Notes] and Dress-Ups
*Story [Sequence] Summary and Dress-Ups
*Reference Summary, Paragraph Structure 
and Sentence Openers
*Creative Writing and Sentence Openers

Included in the package is the binder with divider tabs, 
all necessary worksheets/source texts,
 and of course, the DVD lessons.

**If you are concerned your high school student will be lacking the essentials, this chart show that only two areas are not covered in the B level. This is where the TWSS [which shows you how to teach your students the IEW method of writing] is worth it's weight in gold! You can certainly address those upper level necessities after completing this program.  Some friendly advice here from a HS veteran: don't get your panties in a bunch about it not being "tough enough" or that it won't push the student.  If they struggle with writing in the first place, you want them to feel confident and at ease when learning these skills-so sometimes setting the bar at a height they can leap over, is better than creating a wall they have to catapult over-which may lead to them "hitting the wall" instead.  With the TWSS as your assistant advisor, you can beef up the required material to a high school level, without traumatizing your reluctant or "not-so-swell of a writer" student.


The meat and potatoes of the IEW series is the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Course.  This dear mother (or father) is meant for you.  You will work your way through ten hours of instruction which explains each concept covered within the lessons, along with opportunities to test drive the method [IE: doing the assignments] for yourself-before you teach your students. As an added bonus, you will walk away from this course having a clear understanding regarding Mr. Pudewa's not so crazy design behind the program.  Jam packed with notes, helpful tips, samples of real student (not faked by adults) writings, extensive offerings of additional nuts and bolts and extra source texts; the course will leave you with so much material and know how, you will be able to teach your kiddies from grades 2-12th and beyond (and perhaps yourself too)! If that isn't enough for you, they also have the website bejeweled with areas of assistance, such as the FAQ, Articles, Where to Start, Conference Handout sections and a Yahoo Group dedicated to IEW. On top that, they have honest to goodness actual peeps on the other end of the phone line [otherwise known as customer service representatives] full of extra help, knowledge, and kindness that you can rely on as well.  

The TSWW course covers:

*Overview of the program  
*Note Making and Outlines
*Summarizing from Notes  
      *Summarizing Narrative Stories 
*Summarizing References
and Library Reports
*Writing from Pictures  
*Creative Writing with Structure
*Formal Essay Writing  *Critiques

*Stylistic Techniques 
(referred to throughout the course)
explanation and practice regarding the Key Words,
 Dress-Ups, Sentence Openers, 
Decorations, etc. that are the main components behind
 the program's success

Included in the package is the binder, 
section divider tabs, 
Syllabus Appendix [includes lesson plan sheets] 
and a Quick Start Guide and of course the DVDs

Now, if you have to make a choice between the two programs [due to finances]-your safe bet is to purchase this one.  It has everything (including the Tips and Tricks DVD) that you will need to adequately instruct all of your students for years. Plus they include 3 DVDs [A, B and C levels] with the first lesson found on the SWI course, so you can "see" the concepts in action. This is a treasure trove of info for you,  dear homeschooler. Lest I forget to mention this -teachers in public and private schools can use the IEW program with great success too (and have); as it is meant for anyone wanting to see better results in their student's writing abilities.

A last side note here regarding the TWSS-this is a big program and probably a totally different way to write than you have been taught or use. You will need some time to simmer the material in your head, so I highly recommend you get this long before you want to start teaching it.  No, you do not have to watch the entire thing before you do, just the section on the lesson you will be covering next. But I found that I do better if I have time to "let it sink in", or allow for those moments when I need to go back and re-watch/learn something so that I feel confident in teaching it.  I know this is a spency product, but if you really want to get the writing "thang" down pat in your children's noodles-this is one of the best programs I have come across that will actually do just that. Now remember, as you have read, skimping and forgoing the major parts of the program simply leads to a downtrodden affect, all the while losing the effectiveness of  the basic understanding and reason behind it.  What's more-the SWI matches the lessons found within this, so with the combo pack-you will get the best of both worlds.  If you are "ify" on a particular section, the SWI will clear it up for you-visually and through verbal instruction.  Now that is totally awesome.

One last product here:

The Portable Wall   is a recent addition to the IEW product line.  This handy little foldable [when closed it fits nicely in the binder pocket, when opened it forms a self-standing knowledge center] that contains all the necessities to super charge their writing assignments.  Think of it as a large-sized, laminated version of a "crib sheet" on steroids. The students will keep track of the lists in their notebooks [on provided worksheets], but this is a great extra to have.

The Wall has been nicely organized into sections listing Dress-Ups, Sentence Openers, Decorations, Triple Extensions, "-ly" Adverbs, "-ly" Imposters (which can also be spelled Impostors), Prepositions, Synonyms for "Said", Strong Verbs, and flow charts highlighting the key points of all the units found within the IEW program.

Snippets into our IEW world:

We worked (still are) through the sections with my high school level student.  She was somewhat familiar (as noted above) with the idea of the Key Word and rewriting techniques, so we were able to move quickly through the first several lessons.  We slowed down and simmered over the Summarizing Narratives unit,  to be sure she understood and meet the "check list" components in her assignments.  She actually got so excited, she penned a small novella when only asked to write three paragraphs.  So that alone is a huge improvement in her 'tude toward writing in general-especially using the IEW method.  When I needed to "pump up the jam" in her requirements, I would refer to the TWSS section/pages conveniently noted (so kind of them) in the Teacher's Guide of the SIW course.  This allowed for me to personalize and "upgrade" the necessities to her skill level.  I appreciate that.  We are now embarking on the Report Writing section, which I purposely have held off until the end of this semester. I want to allow for the entire summer to pour over this extremely needful skill, without too many other subjects vying for her attention.  I will then add in the Formal Essay lessons found within the TWSS guide, to be sure we have covered the "must haves" for a well-rounded high school student.  Again, this highlights the flexibility of the program. 

I have seen in just a few short weeks, how my precious daughter has become a better writer,  having developed techniques that she can use her entire life (to apply to any writing situation really).  And that is why I am a changed woman regarding the whole IEW fiasco.

As for the TWSS-I am still pouring over it (again and again), to get a crystal clear know how and ability to apply this IEW technique to any subject matter we cover in our schooling. I will be able to pull source texts from our daily work for the children to rewrite and improve upon.  I am very pleased to have this major source of excellence at my fingertips, and even more excited about sharing my new found love of the Institute for Excellence in Writing program.

[I simply cannot expound everything there is about this huge program on this undeniably long post.  You need to visit the site, and do your own research (down load the freebies, watch the clips and if you can-look through the material to get a better idea of how immense this is) to see if this is a good fit for your family.]

You will have a bit more pre-work when using the TWSS-esp. if only using this program,
as you will need to locate/figure out what source texts you want to use.
 The student can handle most of the SIW lessons on their own, 
with a bit of teacher assistance/grading involved

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$239 for the Pack
target age range: 6-8 grade
This combination package is the best way to begin with Excellence in Writing. It includes Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS), Tips and Tricks DVD and Student Writing Intensive (SWI). Comes with 2 sets of DVDs (one for the teacher, one for the student), TWSS Seminar Workbook, and Student Notebook with handouts and daily lesson suggestions. [taken from the website]

$7.00 each
all students

Components can be purchased separately. 

**Don't forget to find out what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***The Institute for Excellence in Writing provided me with on free Writing Intensive Pack-level B kit and one Portable Wall, so that I would use this with my children and write this review. I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.