Tag Archives: Review

Quality Learning Activities with History Unboxed

     Here at Tapestry of Grace, we love combining history with hands-on learning. So, when I first heard about History Unboxed I was intrigued by what it offers: subscription and on-demand boxes filled with crafts for different historical periods. My second oldest loves any hands on crafts she can find so I am regularly on the lookout for things that will bring history and hands-on activities together.

Emma History Unboxed

I was delighted to discover that History Unboxed has options for a range of time periods. Some of my favorite boxes that line up nicely with Tapestry Year 1 are:

They also have an Anglo-Saxon box that would fit well with Year 2, Weeks 1-2 and they will be adding medieval and American history boxes. For each time period, you have your choice of two age levels: you can get a box for ages 5-9 or for ages 10-15. If you have a teenager who loves hand-on learning, this option offers so much more for them than just “little kid” crafts.

We received two boxes, one from each age group, for Ancient Australia. Our family had just learned about Australia at the Grammar levels of Tapestry of Grace Year 3, so I thought a box about it would be a fun history enrichment activity to do with my daughters (aged 8, 6, and 4).

The boxes had a number of educational materials that I loved!  There was a paper explaining the history of ancient Australia, a cartoon for my children to read and color, and a letter written to them from children “visiting” that time period. These printed pages served beautifully as teaching aids—they helped me begin to explain to my daughters about ancient Australia. The box also included a list of book recommendations, though I chose to use our Tapestry books on Australia instead.

History Unboxed spray art

Then we started on the crafts. Out of the box came a boomerang for my girls to decorate, as well as drawing paper and aboriginal paints! There were age-appropriate coloring pictures in each box, and a fun lollipop with ants in it.  The girls were both grossed-out and fascinated by the lollipops.  However, once I convinced them that ants were safe to eat, everyone wanted to try one!History Unboxed craft box

Many parents are eager to incorporate crafts with their children, but not all of us find it easy to gather ideas and materials. History Unboxed provides an answer for that problem—an answer that I loved! Their wonderful activities directly connected my children with a time and place in history. I was also impressed to find that the activities we received were not crafts that I could pick up at a craft store. They were unique and well-thought-out.

You can buy one box at a time from History Unboxed (and they are always adding new boxes)—or you can set up a subscription to receive a new box every month. Imagine having a package full of historical hands-on goodies just show up on your doorstep!

There is one thing to note: History Unboxed expects each box to be used with one child, so for multiple children you would need to purchase add on items. Fortunately, they now offer a sibling add on option if you subscribe to their boxes so that you can receive extra materials at a reduced rate.

We loved this product. If you prefer not to invent or collect materials for hands-on activities, but still want them for your students, History Unboxed may be just the thing for you!

(Disclosure: I received two boxes from History Unboxed in exchange for this honest review.)

Things We Love: Homegrown Preschooler


Review by Casey Somerville

The second my daughter Violet turned two, suddenly it seemed like the word “preschool” was on everyone’s lips. The wisdom of many homeschooling moms convinced me that I was doing fine as long as Vi was being read to, learning her colors & shapes, and being instructed on how to sit cross cross applesauce (okay I added that last part). So I wasn’t stressed about preschool (at least not out loud) and as Violet got older and started on the road to official schooling, I was content to incorporate daily common sense learning in my now 4-year-old’s life.

Violet (age 4)

Violet (age 4)

When my sister-in-laws started raving about Homegrown Preschooler, I was skeptical. How necessary was an actual preschool curriculum? What if it just proves that I actually haven’t been teaching Violet all she needs to know before she hits Kindergarten? What if my way of sitting cross-cross-applesauce was all wrong? So it was with gritted teeth and slight heart palpitations that I began leafing through Homegrown Preschooler’s teaching manual.

But. As I flipped the pages and read through their philosophy and activity suggestions, I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I started to glow with encouragement. And then I was inspired. Not only did Homegrown Preschooler complement what I’d already been working on (albeit unscheduled and unofficially) with Vi, but they creatively expanded on topics and ideas I wanted to incorporate anyway.

I appreciated how the plans are monthly, giving you free reign as to how you want to divvy up the projects you choose to do. Note, I said choose! It’s a no-guilt curriculum. You choose what works for your time, budget, and children.

The monthly topics and activities provide light structure to your preschool, and I was blessed to see how many things we were already doing–Homegrown Preschooler’s suggestions simply sharpened and rounded out our focus.

Beatrice (age 2)

Beatrice (age 2)

The topics are well chosen and matched up beautifully with my 4-year-old and my 2-year-old, meeting them where they are developmentally, socially, and in terms of their interests. The fact that it spans several ages is wonderful–Beatrice (age 2) was thrilled to be included in “school.”

It took about an hour to read through the month plan (we started in January) and decide which activities I would include. While they do provide a printed space to plan your month, honestly I just used my laptop. The folks at Homegrown Preschooler also include a helpful, comprehensive list of supplies you’ll need and most of the printables for each month. (However, I did have to spend a little time looking for a weather wheel template.)

As I read through the suggestions, it was easy to latch on to the ones my daughters would love and discard the ones I knew wouldn’t work for us this month. Again, I didn’t feel guilty about it. Score!


I also found that the activities are open-ended just enough that it was intuitive to change them here and there to better fit our life and resources. Plus, for some of the more nuanced activities, Homegrown Preschooler includes specific resources in their curriculum package (i.e. water beads, fake snow, Arctic animals…) which made it easy to say yes to those particular ideas!


Overall, we really enjoyed our month of Homegrown Preschooler. As an “unofficial preschool” type of mom, I was impressed at how well it worked for us and I’m looking forward to February!




(Disclosure: I received this curriculum in exchange for an honest review.)

Review of Love the Journey

LTJ coverWe have been enjoying feedback from readers of Love the Journey. This one was particularly thorough, and we thought it gave a good overview of both the book and what the reader found valuable. So, we decided to publish it here. Love the Journey is highly recommended reading for homeschooling moms on all levels of experience. Enjoy the review!


Review by Julie in Kansas
(a missionary to sensitive countries who cannot share her last name)

On page 179 of her book, Love The Journey, copyright 2014, Marcia Somerville says, “This chapter is as much about parenting as it is about homeschooling, but as I’ve said previously in this book, homeschooling is parenting concentrate, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.” [Italics are my emphasis.]

Do I resonate with this idea that homeschooling is like having poured too much OJ concentrate into the glass before adding water? My husband often says that our son is worth 10 boys! Intense, sometimes bitter, but full of flavor are EXACTLY my sentiments about being with our children all the time. I wouldn’t trade the opportunity or responsibility for the world! But could someone please, please, please, gently, and when appropriate, firmly, reset my gaze on the right ways to do this?

Because of its orderly structure, featuring five sections, Love the Journey is an easy go-to reference tool after it has been read. I must mention that each chapter is so chock full of truth plus the need for personal application that it took me longer to “read” the book than I first anticipated. Joyfully, I feel as though I have taken a year’s course, and been enriched beyond any class I’ve paid for. Thanks, Marcia, for truly being an “older woman…teaching what is good.”

In this review, I have chosen to mention the recurrent themes throughout the entire book that stood out to me and continue to be ruminating in my mind.

THEME ONE: Scripture. Marcia starts off in the Introduction with passages and then continues throughout the book with words from THE Teacher. How can an author not be Christ-centered if they are searching for what the truth is? Familiar passages take on a fresh meaning as she helps mothers slow down and see how God loves and directs us each and every daily moment. “Once you’ve heard a child out, I Thessalonians 5:14 gives parents useful categories to think about when addressing children who are not in a good place. Paul writes, ‘And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.’ Not all misbehavior stems from the same wrong heart attitudes…you’ll find that sometimes people don’t act the way we think that they should from inability, rather than bad attitudes” (182).

THEME TWO: Humility. She uses the much-welcomed conversational tone of a beloved relative, cheering you on by sharing what she has learned so far in her life. All of the mistakes she shares helped me, even if I haven’t been making the exact same ones. And guess what? She humbly allowed God to make changes in her, which encourages me to do likewise. “God will use your experiences in this season of journeying with your children as part of the mix of you (and their) unique ‘soul soils.’ You aren’t finished yet, and as He equips you to meet and greet the challenges of the homeschool journey, the hills, the vistas, and the valleys are all part of the process that He beautifully orchestrates to bring forth the varying expressions of Himself in you and in your children” (64-65).

Combined with her humble words, she includes humor and situations we have all found ourselves to be in. “When we bow to the tyranny of others’ voices or our own feelings and thoughts, we so often end up taking on more than we can handle in a quiet and orderly way. We find ourselves rushing, which makes it easy to take to give in to temptations to be rude and unkind to our children and husbands. In rushing them out the door, we go yelling through the house to hurry them up. While busy with other tasks, we rebuke with a sharp word or sudden swat, or because we are among outsiders, we grit our teeth and try to pretend that the two-year-old kicking and screaming on the department store floor isn’t our baby!” (127).

THEME THREE: Flexibility. I am guessing that Marcia can bend and reach her toes! Remaining true to her Tapestry of Grace reminder of choosing what your family needs from the vast buffet of homeschooling choices, she is not offering or expecting one rigid road. She not only addresses mothers who have known they would homeschool from the first sonogram, but also those of us who allowed our children to be in a government school before bringing them home. She praises the military wife right alongside the single mother. The working mom is valued equally with the stay-at-home mom. Whatever our families’ situations, Marcia reminds us that we are to live our lives without comparing ourselves to others. A snippet: “We are most often the ones that are called ‘Type A’ personalities. We like to have all our ducks in a row…We know that sometimes we can trample on relationships, and we’re sorry about that, but for us the mission usually trumps the feelings of others…[vs.] Those of us who don’t like schedules tend to be creative, passionate, and somewhat (okay, a lot) disorganized and messy. We usually don’t want to take things too seriously, we value relationships above tasks, and we don’t want to be hemmed in by either our own choices or the rules that others make” (132).

THEME FOUR: Life stories. What an intimate step we take inside the Somervilles’ home to read personal stories of what Marcia has learned from 22 years of homeschooling! An added benefit in Love The Journey is of also hearing what her children learned as they share from their adult viewpoints. “Our then college-aged son talked about how the transfer from home to a liberal, secular college wasn’t hard because he’d learned that his siblings and parents were sinners at home, so at school he didn’t really get surprised by the presence of sin–though its increased volume among his peers saddened him greatly” (72). “[T]wo of my became professional artists…another became a team leader and IT systems engineer…one loves his job…[don’t want to spoil all the details!]” (206). “Towards the end of one particularly busy day, I was putting four-year-old…to bed. ‘Mommy?’ he said. ‘Yes, Davey,’ I answered… ‘Mommy, I know that you were really busy today, so when I finished my drawring…today, I held it up behind you so that you could see it with the eyes in the back of your head.’ That was a moment that I hope I never forget. My heart constricted with love and pain” (168).

THEME FIVE: Practical. While we all love the warm fuzzies and need to hear the “good” more on some days than others, Love the Journey is also full of “I can do this in my home” pointers. “What this book is, or is trying to be, is a book that helps you to find (and define in your own words) the principles behind wise homeschooling practices. It’s a book about ways to be intentional, purposeful, and Christ-centered as you sit in your house…” (15). Some of the chapters for grunt work include: “Clarifying the Ends We Have in Mind,” “Training in Liberty,” “Keeping a Quiet Home,” “A Time to Plan,” “What to Do With Preschoolers,” “What About Memory Work,” etc. Read the book with your husband not only to have him keep you accountable, but also to come up with your unique family goals and methods! Frequently, Marcia shares how throughout the years of schooling her husband was the instigator of something needed in their family.

THEME SIX: Raising Questions. There are several thought-provoking gentle probes strung throughout the book, but by far my personal favorite section was the last one, Section Five: “When You Lie Down and When You Rise Up.” Marcia lovingly confronts us with much-needed pointed questions for how we, as teachers of life to our children, will choose to live out our salvation in our homes. These questions solidify Love The Journey as life changing for me. Included in the answers are Words of God—the ultimate mentor.

Chapters on commitment, patiently loving, loving kindly, loving without envying, and having gratitude permeate our homes cover topics that can never be overemphasized for us saints stuck in this sinful world. Various, but far from all-inclusive, questions from that section are “In what (or, better, in Whom) am I trusting for the success of our homeschool?” (290). “What bad fruits did I reap as my unloving behaviors created ongoing cycles of folly?” (305). “In light of what I’ve seen, how should I respond right now to God and others regarding my current, unkind habits?” (322). “What does God say? How can the gospel make a difference, and teach me to love better and envy less?” (334). “What cycles of blessing can I hope for as I turn to God and grow in my ability to love?” (340). “Which is more characteristic of your attitude as your rise up each morning and think about the day ahead: do you ‘get to’ or have you ‘got to’? That one vowel change can make all the difference in seeing that our daily tasks are a privilege” (351). Though in no way conclusive, these are some of the many nuggets I mined. What an unexpected deeper surprise to have found real Gold as I hopped on board the moving (but purposeful) train of Love The Journey.

There is one sentence, however, that I disagree with. In her introduction, Marcia writes, “This book is written to women who are disciples of Jesus Christ and are new to homeschooling” (15). I would argue against both sides of this compound sentence. The first part about the audience being only those who are currently following the Master excludes all of those who might be future followers. Often God uses personal testimony, such as Marcia has graciously shared on these pages of her book, to be the catalyst of turning a heart towards Him. There might be those who are not even saved who need to hear her “tried but failed on my own” to homeschool. God’s Word does not return void! Secondly, I am not new to homeschooling. But I have been blessed, challenged, encouraged, redirected, and 100% infused with His great plans for our family by sitting by Marcia’s armchair side throughout this book. I would strongly suggest that people read this at any stage they are on in the homeschooling journey, and then reread it a few years later as a type of plumb line. And read it again!

Also remaining true to herself, Marcia is current with technology and has a study/discussion group. It’s open to anyone reading the book (TOG users or not) and the URL is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/780726298618570.

My Rating: 5 stars plus

The ideas are nothing new under the sun, but the author has taken what God says is true and applied it to life. She notes His changing and working power to share with others. That is surpassing what humanly is possible! All glory to God who uses Marcia to personify the words of Paul in Colossians 2:2-3, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And thanks to Marcia, for allowing herself to be a channel!

Cathy Duffy’s Classic: 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

If you are new to Homeschooling, want to give a gift to a mom who is just taking the homeschooling plunge, or if you need a change of curricula, this is the book for you. Cathy Duffy’s work has been such a help to many newbies in sorting out the learning style(s) and reading up on the specific features of curricula that they want to try before they buy.

Are you a new homeschooler? When you click on the link at the end of this paragraph, you’ll be offered a one time opportunity* to download FREE chapter 4 of 101 Top Picks; it’s about learning styles. It’s very helpful, and will give you an idea of Cathy’s style and substance. Ready for that link? Here it is: http://cathyduffyreviews.com.

For most of us, there’s no one perfect curriculum that lasts for our whole homeschooling life. As I wrote in my more general post, “Stars and Seasons”, we may go for quite awhile with one approach, and then things change in our families, or seasons of life, and we need a different direction to head. With Cathy’s book on your shelf, and with a bookmark to her excellent website, which offers in-depth reviews of curricula that didn’t make the Top 101 list, you’ll always have a place to start in your search!

This homeschooling classic has recently been released in digital format, so there’s no reason to wait if you want to get started with researching homeschooling curricula, and learning valuable tips that will help you to define more clearly your unique goals for the journey ahead. For those of us old fashioned folk who still like paper, you can order from the above link and the book will come quickly to you! Enjoy!


*If you decide to go there and don’t want to–or can’t–download this free chapter now, just be advised that you’ll need to clear your digital cookies for another offer to download this free chapter.