Excellent Resources: A Review

Back in 2011, I was privileged to attend the OCHEC homeschool convention. One of the main speakers at the convention was Andrew Pudewa. To say I was impressed with his ideology and methodology would be an understatement.

At the time, I wasn’t sure about incorporating his writing lessons into our curriculum–it seemed so ambitious, and our children so young–but there were aspects of his methodology I began to employ right away. And as time has gone on more of his ideas have been incorporated into our homeschool.History of Canada curriculum

Recently, I became aware of a sister company of Andrew Pudewa’s Institute for Excellence in Writing based in Canada with resources aimed at Canadian students! Even better, these resources could be downloaded and the videos enjoyed online, making it an ideal option for a family living abroad!

The company is called Excellent Resources, and the curriculum we have been using is entitled History of Canada. It is a theme-based exploration of the principles of good writing. We have been using it to improve Pumpkin and Sweetpea’s writing skills while simultaneously reviewing Canadian history. How wonderful is that?

Even though on one hand, I was enthusiastic to begin reviewing this curriculum with our children, I entered the process with a fair degree of trepidation as well, since early experiences with more serious writing in the summer did not go well, particularly with Pumpkin.

However, after using the curriculum since the beginning of this school year (which for us started somewhere in the middle of October), I have seen both children’s writing skills improve in a way I could not have imagined before.

And during one recent writing lesson, while polishing off a writing assignment, Pumpkin was heard to say, “I love writing.” I was shocked. And thrilled!

Each new lesson builds gently on the principles in the previous one, everything patiently and meticulously explained in the videos that accompany the curriculum. There is a lot of hand-holding in the first lessons, with increasing independence as the lessons progress. New vocabulary and grammar instruction is woven throughout the lessons.

Excellent Resources: A Review

Those familiar with the sister company, Institute for Excellence in Writing, will recognize some of the concepts taught:

  1. keyword outlines
  2. writing from notes
  3. dress-ups
  4. banned words
  5. limiting note-taking
  6. topic and clincher sentences
  7. incorporating higher-level vocabulary

All this is studied while at the same time learning (or in our case, re-learning) about the Vikings, Champlain, Cartier, Cabot, the courier de bois, Madeleine de Vercheres, the Loyalists, the war of 1812, and Canada’s role in the Underground Railway.

The course is comprehensive, and leaves students with a good knowledge of how to write from both source text and out of their own imaginations. It teaches sound principles of editing, and I really appreciate the checklists included in each lesson to keep the student on track.

Excellent Resources carries the full range of IEW’s products for the Canadian market, and two other Canadian-themed curricula, each designed for a different grade level: All Things Canada and Neighbours with a Difference.

More than once while using this curriculum I have remarked that I wish someone had taught me to write in such a systematic, painless way. Although I picked up the principles of good writing along the way, it is something I “had a feel for” not something I was taught. And therefore something I found difficult to quantify or pass on to my children. JavaMan has been on hand during a number of our lessons, and he has been impressed with the quality of the writing instruction as well. He remarked that he did not receive such good instruction in writing until he reached high school.

But even more than what we’ve been able to accomplish this school year–which is significant–I appreciate that my children are gaining an understanding of what good writing is and how important it is. They now see the difference between something that is written well and something that is not, and what an impression each can leave on the reader.

I owe all this to Excellent Resources for their truly outstanding product. Thank you, Excellent Resources!



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The Beloved Daughter Audiobook Launch

Friday Fiction FixOne of the loveliest things about this journey into authorhood has definitely been all the wonderful friendships I’ve made with fellow authors. I “met” Alana Terry on Twitter. We struck up a friendship because of our mutual interests: writing and homeschooling. (Yes there are a few others out there crazy enough to try to do both at the same time!)

Today I’m hosting Alana as part of the blog tour for The Beloved Daughter audiobook launch! Alana Terry is an award-winning author. Earlier this year, I downloaded The Beloved Daughter for my Kindle, and it quickly became one of my favorite reads of 2013: a poignant story, beautifully told, with descriptions that have you jumping right into the story.

The Beloved Daughter, an inspirational suspense novel, is a story of persecution and triumph set in the oppressive North Korean regime. The audiobook version of Alana’s bestselling debut novel is narrated by Kathy Garver, a four-time Audie award winner and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from the Motion Picture Council. (You might also recognize Kathy as Cissy from the TV show Family Affair.)

Listen to a sample of Kathy reading from The Beloved Daughter.

The Beloved Daughter

Synopsis: In a small North Korean village, a young girl struggles to survive. It is her father’s faith, not the famine of North Hamyong Province, that most threatens Chung-Cha’s well-being. The Beloved Daughter follows Chung-Cha into one of the most notorious prison camps the contemporary free world has known. Her crime? Being the daughter of a Christian.

Join the giveaway


*Winner, Women of Faith Writing Contest

*1st Place, Book Club Network Book of the Month

*Amazon Bestseller (#5 Christian Suspense)


“…an engaging plot that reads like a story out of today’s headlines…” ~ Women of Faith Writing Contest

“Alana is a master storyteller, and I can’t imagine anyone failing to be
captivated by this harrowing tale
. What we have here is a compelling
story, but it’s also one of great importance.” ~ Brad Francis, Author of The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living

“The Beloved Daughter is a beautifully written story that is…both personal and representative of the challenges that many North Koreans still face today.” ~ Sarah Palmer, Rescue Team Coordinator at Liberty in North Korea

“The author does a phenomenal job… HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – but have tissues handy.” ~ Pauline Creeden, Editor AltWit Press

Order your own copy of The Beloved Daughter.

Awesome Prizes!

You don’t want to miss out on the month-long Beloved Daughter audiobook launch party. See the Alana Terry facebook page to get started. Multiple winners every week … Hundreds of $$$-worth in prizes!

ENTER THE DRAWING: In addition to the Facebook party, you can enter the grand prize drawing below for a chance to win a $100 gift card to either Target or Amazon (you choose!), or one of the awesome prizes from the prize gallery  (think Christian T-shirts, jewelry, books, CDs, lotions, and more)!




a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Vocabulary Spelling City: A Review

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Some products are easy to love. VocabularySpellingCity is one of those products. There is so much for a student to do on the site, and so many ways a teacher can make use of the material, it’s hard to know where to begin in describing its features! For the purposes of this review, our family was given access to a premium membership, but I already knew how wonderful VocabularySpellingCity was from previous experience with the program. A year’s subscription to the premium features of VocabularySpellingCity is $29.99 for up to five students, K-12.

As I mentioned, there are many ways a classroom teacher or homeschooler can use this program. There are a number of pre-made lists to choose from: Dolch Word Lists, Phonics Word Lists, grade-appropriate word lists–even holiday-themed lists (October’s word lists have words for Hallowe’en, Harvest and Columbus Day). You can even search schools all over the U.S. to find spelling lists. To use a pre-made list, the teacher/parent logs in to her account, finds the list and “imports” it. Immediately afterward, it is available in the lists of words her class or group can use.

How We Use VocabularySpellingCity

While we had a little fun this month with the holiday lists, let me explain how our family uses VocabularySpellingCity on a regular basis. Since Pumpkin is 11 and in 6th grade, and Sweetpea is almost 10 and in 5th grade, for spelling (as well as some other subjects), they study together. We have a full spelling program that we use on a regular basis, but when I need to work on dictation with Sprout, who’s only 7 and studying much simpler words, Sweetpea and Pumpkin use VocabularySpellingCity to review their most recent lists. On days when I’m dictating words to the older two, Sprout studies independently with her spelling lists.

I’ve also assigned work on the program to all three children when I have to go to the kitchen to prepare lunch, and want them to spend some time reviewing their spelling words. Although we didn’t use it as part of this review, VocabularySpellingCity has an iPad app that comes in handy when all three kids want to practice.

How the Program Works

Right away, when they enter the program, they can see their assignments (see the note about this below), their spelling lists, and a brief message from me.

VocabularySpellingCity The program is easy to use, since it dictates the words to the child and then gives him or her a sample sentence so the meaning is clear. Each time my children log in, I require them to do a spelling practice or test, but there are several games they can play that use the words from their lists as well.

In addition to their regular spelling lists, we made some lists of words my children wanted to practice so they would know how to spell them when they write stories. These words are also available to them when they use the “Sentence Writing Practice” and “Paragraph Writing Practice” games that are part of the premium package.

Here’s are some of the other games available:

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  1. Word-O-Rama – read the definition and choose the word that matches
  2. Letter Fall – catch falling letters to spell a word correctly
  3. Word Find – use the letters from the spelling word to spell both the scrambled main word and other words that are “hiding” within it
  4. Word Search
  5. Crossword Puzzle
  6. Hangmouse
  7. Word Unscramble

Students also have the option to go into a “teach” mode so they can have spelling words taught to them–useful if they’ve forgotten them or are coming up with a low score.

Because of the review and learning options, the games and the fun available through the program, my kids are always eager to “play” when it’s their turn to use VocabularySpellingCity.

How I Set up VocabularySpellingCity for learning:

In order for my children to review their words, I do have to take some time to enter in their lists. In the curriculum we’ve used, a single spelling list is 20 words long. It takes me about three minutes to enter in all the words and review the words and their corresponding definitions and sentences to make sure that the right word is being recorded and the original meaning I’m intending for them to learn is represented by the sentence that will be used in dictation. I try to do this at the end of the days on which I’ve originally dictated the list, while it’s still fresh for me, and then it’s available for our next spelling lesson. VocabularySpellingCity asks users to name spelling lists. We use the letter/number system from our spelling curriculum so it’s easy to look up the original lists in case of any discrepancies and so I can remember where I left off entering lists.


With VocabularySpellingCity’s features, I can even assign tasks to my children. A reminder is then posted at the top of their screen indicating an assignment is waiting for them. Assignments can be posted with or without due dates, and more than one task can be listed within an assignment. Tasks can also be sequenced, if a certain order of tasks is important. (For example, if the list I’m having them review is older, I’ll assign them a practice test before the real test).

I can also review the time each child spent on various tasks, their scores for those tasks and their problem words. This is helpful for making lists of review words with which they need to spend extra time.


VocabularySpellingCity is brilliant because it’s a tool that allows me to be in two places at the same time offering fun, motivating and effective instruction for my children. It’s become an indispensable part of our homeschool.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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