Our Favorites for the Year ~ and the Schoolhouse Review Crew’s Blue Ribbon Awards!

Did you know that Schoolhouse Review Crew members vote on their absolute favorites in each review category, every single year?


Well, we do!  And today, I’m going to share with you some of Jackson’s and my personal faves.  Then, I’m going to give you a link so that you can see the overall winners from the Crew’s voting.

Without further ado…..da winnahs!


Dynamic Lit 1Favorite Vocabulary:

Definitely Dynamic LiteracyWordBuild Elements Level 1 is an extremely creative, games- and exercise-based study of Greek and Latin word roots.  I’ve always felt that these are excellent helps for understanding the English language, since so many English words have a Latin or a Greek root….or prefix or suffix.  This course makes learning the roots enjoyable and fun.  It’s very effective!


IEW Resource Set bannerFavorite All-Around Language Arts:

Definitely Institute for Excellence in Writing!  We received the amazing resource set above, which included both a book and a DVD, Teaching with Games; an unusual and excellent thesaurus writing tool called A Word Write Now; and Timeline of Classics.  These tools were both engaging, unique and very helpful to both Jackson and me.  Institute for Excellence in Writing always lives up to the “excellence” part of its name.

a Fall 2014 147Favorite Grammar:

Again, it’s Institute for Excellence in Writing!  This time, it’s IEW’s Fix It! Grammar, which utilizes classic literature (in our case, Robin Hood) to teach correct grammar and punctuation.  It’s so effective and filled with clarity.


Poetry pic 2Favorite Literature:

Progeny Press’ Introduction to Poetry Study Guide was a remarkable introduction to the world of poetry.  This high school course was still very accessible to my 8th grader, and I think he especially enjoyed the fact that the guide was an interactive PDF, which he typed all his answers and work into.


Middle Ages bannerFavorite History:

Homeschool in the Woods’ Project Passport World History.  The Middle Ages study is hands-on, fascinating, user-friendly, AND covers parts of history we weren’t even that familiar with.  We learned a ton, and enjoyed every minute of it!


Eat Your Math bannerEat Your Science book coverFavorite Science and Favorite Math:

I cannot tell you enough how much I adore Ann McCallum Books’ Eat Your Science Homework and Eat Your Math Homework!  In these, you and your students will learn about black holes, invisible ink, tessellations, atoms and molecules, fractions, and Fibonacci sequence.  All while cooking up a storm together!  We enjoyed these so much.  You must check them out!

And some other faves that Jackson and I enjoyed:

Prasso Teen Bible Studies

ARTistic Pursuits

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal by Apologia Educational Ministries

Star Toaster’s Orphs of the Woodlands

Koru Naturals

YWAM Publishing

We had a fabulous year with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, loving and being blessed by so many products.  Many thanks, from the bottoms of our hearts, to the Crew and to our fantastic vendors!

And now that I’ve shared our TOS review faves with you….check out the by clicking here on Blue Ribbon Award Winners from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  You’ll be taken to the Crew blog, where you can see the overall winners, plus links to Crew members’ own lists!

Enjoy! –Wren

Creamy Spaghetti Squash!

Hello Fresh box:

I had to modify this recipe a bit (my own fault) when you get these meals you have to cook them within a week. *I didn’t cook this until the next one and the mushrooms were a tiny bit off. So we trashed those and proceeded on!

This is what it was supposed to look like!!

Spag card


  • 1 Spaghetti Squash
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1/4 oz fresh Oregano
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1 can Lite Coconut Milk
  • 1 T Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, cut the Spaghetti squash in half (from stem to stern). Scoop out all the seeds and dispose of them. Then drizzle the inside of the squash with Olive Oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet ( I covered in foil) that has a bit more Olive oil drizzled on it’s surface. Place squash face down and place in the oven for about 40 minutes until very tender (use the fork test).

Halve the zucchini lengthwise and slice into thin half moons. Chop the Oregano, discarding the stems.

Drizzle Olive oil into a large non-stick pan and set at medium high heat. Add the zucchini, half the oregano and cook tossing about 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper. Add the coconut milk to the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, Remove it from the heat.

simmering zucchini in pan

Let the squash cool a bit and use the tines of a fork to scoop out the noodles (it’s incredibly easy)! Add noodles continually to pan as you go. Keep the squash shells for your serving bowls! Add the Parmesan cheese to the pan (keep a bit out for garnish) and stir mixture well.

Roasted squash

Spaghetti noodles

Scoop into the squash bowls and garnish with remaining Oregano and Parmesan.

Squash close up


*I think the recipe would have been better with the mushrooms; it needed a counter balance to all the slick veggies!

This is a link and referral code if you are interested!



Enter to Win a 3-Month Subscription to EEME–Our Fave Kid Science/Electronics!

If you’ve read the finchnwren blog this fall, you’ve probably seen the EEME button on our sidebar…and maybe you’ve seen our posts reviewing their cool science project kits!

EEME 3-set giveaway banner

EEME is a company that teaches STEM techniques and lessons to children through their amazing electronic project kits, where children (and parents) build complete circuits, lights that switch on and off, buzzers that actually sound and more!  We have absolutely loved every kit we’ve received and built, and Jackson has learned some incredible engineering, technology, and science skills.

You can see more about the cool kits we’ve built and reviewed by clicking on the links below:


Proj Gen 4Project Genius Light


EEME Proj DIY Display 1Project DIY Display


Project Tentacles pic 4Project Tentacles

And now—the giveaway!

How would you like to win a fabulous three-month subscription to EEME, so that you and your kiddos can build some of these fascinating projects yourself?

Well, you can!  EEME and finchnwren are joining together to give away these awesome STEM kid projects.  What you’ll need to do (no Rafflecopter this time!) is hop over to the EEME Facebook page via this link:  Win an EEME 3-Month Subscription!

EEME Dad Jack has designed a fun giveaway.  He has a tub full of the buzzer component from the Project Tentacles kit.  All you have to do is guess the number of the buzzers!  Then, you can like the posts and share.

These kits are SO amazing and cool.  They make learning about STEM the most rewarding and enriching experience.

One winner will be selected on 11/30/15, and the projects will be shipped directly to that winner.

Enter today—and best wishes!

Enjoy!  –Wren


Things we love…National Spicy Guacamole Day!

Yes, today, Saturday, November 14th, is NATIONAL SPICY GUACAMOLE DAY!

Perfect for a fall day watching Football, so make up a batch or stop at Chipotle (they have the BEST Guac).

Guacamole is made by using a mortar and pestle to mash ripe avocados and then mixing in different ingredients.  We use tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and lime juice in ours! For those daredevils out there, you can also add Jalapenos, chili peppers, cumin or red pepper flakes to make the guacamole spicy.

The HAAS Avocado Board estimated that Avocado consumption for Super Bowl Sunday could easily be over 100 million pounds!


Great Resource from The Critical Thinking Co. ~ A TOS Review

We’ve been privileged to use several resources from The Critical Thinking Co. this year.  Recently, we were able to review another product from this company–this time, a tool to build competent critical thinking skills in students from grades 4-9.  The Basics of Critical Thinking is a great product for parents who’d like to see their children grow in these vital problem-solving skills.  And, as they work through the book together with their children, the parents just might learn some things, too!


Crit Think Basics banner

More about The Critical Thinking Co.

The Critical Thinking Co. creates and produces curriculum products for children of all ages—from preschool children through high school seniors.  Each book published by this company enables students to build their critical thinking skills as they use them, whether it’s a math book, a history course, reading, science or social studies.  (By the way, we’ve reviewed and used two of those: U.S. History Detective Book One and Pattern Explorer; you can read the reviews of these impressive products by clicking on the links.)  Rather than just loading information onto the students, The Critical Thinking Co. introduces them to subjects, then allows them to draw conclusions based on what they’ve read or seen.  Inductive and deductive reasoning both play a part in the students’ work.  I really appreciate their methods!


Critical Thinking LogoWhat is critical thinking, anyway?

There are a LOT of definitions of critical thinking floating around the web.  I like the simplicity of this term as defined in The Basics of Critical Thinking:  “Critical thinking is “finding and evaluating evidence to try to make the best decisions.””  (The Basics of Critical Thinking, page iii)  Here’s what I really like about teaching critical thinking to children and teens: as they grown in these skills, they become more able to hear information or an argument, and rather than being swayed by great oration, strong opinions, or a charismatic speaker, they can evaluate the information, come to a conclusion, and determine whether or not the arguments are valid, true, or false.  Or, they might conclude that more information is needed before they can make a decision on the validity of a claim.  The more kids learn about critical thinking, the stronger their skills will be as they grow into adulthood, and have to make decisions on their own.


Crit Thinking Basics pic 1The Basics of Critical Thinking

So, how does one teach critical thinking to students in grades 4-9?  If you’re The Critical Thinking Co., you’ve come up with a genius way to do it with The Basics of Critical Thinking.  This consumable book uses puzzles and word games, along with cartoons, to present students with various situations.  Then, they explain what kinds of reasoning are required for each situation, and walk the students through an example. Then, the student works similar problems on his own.

Here are some examples of what’s covered in this excellent book:

  • Decisions and Conclusions
  • Beliefs and Claims
  • Evidence
  • Inference
  • Facts and Opinions
  • Arguments
  • Fallacies
  • and much, much more

In each of these book segments, there are numerous activities that fall under each category.  Students are introduced to the concept (e.g., fallacies) and given a sample example of what that concept looks like.  They work through a process to solve it.  Then, they’re given more activities in that category.

Crit Think Basics pic 2

The Basics of Critical Thinking is composed around this method of introducing thinking and problem-solving skills.  There’s also a brief introduction about critical thinking and its importance, as well as four myths about it at the beginning of the book.  Parents will also appreciate the answer key (for all the problems/activities in the text) at the end of the book.


Crit Think Basics pic 3Here’s how we used The Basics of Critical Thinking:

This is a book that can be used in a variety of ways.  Some children may be able to complete it on their own, or with parental assistance.  Usually, Jackson and I would work through the introduction of each process or technique (evidence, inference, arguments, etc.) together and do the first problem together.  Then, I’d sit nearby while he did the rest of them (usually, a couple of pages).

It’s very easy to add this to a day’s schoolwork.  It requires very little in the way of preparation for the parent; some days I’d read through the section we were doing, but on other days when I hadn’t had a chance to preview it, it was just as easy to pick it up and do it together.

Crit Think pic 4The problems and activities are interesting and fun.  The explanations of the different material explained in the book are clear and understandable.  Most weeks, we used it three to four times per week.  And, it only took about 10 to 15 minutes per day!  Yet with that small amount of time, useful skills were gradually built in my son.

As we worked through The Basics of Critical Thinking,  I really saw Jackson grow in skill and ability, of how to deal with the ways people can present information; and, how to determine what is actually true or false by asking more questions or thinking about how the speaker presents his thoughts.  Normally, he works pretty rapidly through many of his subjects.  But in The Basics of Critical Thinking, because he was being taught a new skill set and the focus was on investigating the facts, he really had to slow down and think about them.  (Honestly, so did I!)


Crit Think pic 5Our final thoughts:

Do you ever feel, in arguments or discussions with others, that you disagree with what’s being stated as fact or truth, but you don’t know how to rebut them?  I certainly do.  I don’t think I was ever really taught this particular process, and I never spent time in debate.  However, I really think that it’s vital that my son learns and understands how to sift through arguments to determine what is true and what is false.  So, I was really delighted to be able to use and review The Basics of Critical Thinking with my 8th grader.  Also, both Jackson and I appreciated that the situations presented to teach each segment were interesting!  Often, they were quite humorous as well.  We always enjoy that.

The Critical Thinking Co. is gifted at being able to teach and present the process of learning critical thinking skills to children and teens.  This colorful book has really fun and interesting activities, along with great illustrations.  And while many of them may seem simple on the surface, the student really has to think to work through the problems.  The repetition of doing so lays the foundation (or adds to it) of critical thinking that will be useful for a lifetime!

We happily recommend to you The Basics of Critical Thinking from The Critical Thinking Co.  You may purchase it from their website; and your journey to better critical thinking skills can begin at once!

Other Crew members reviewed a variety of other books from The Critical Thinking Co.  If you click on the banner below,  you’ll be able to learn more about those!

Enjoy!  –Wren



The Critical Thinking Company Review



Crew Disclaimer

Mushroom Ragu with Polenta cakes!

This is my second favorite Hello Fresh dish (only to the one-pot Mexican Quinoa); it’s incredibly rich and amazing in flavor.

Ragu box closed

Ragu box open


  • 8 oz Mushrooms
  • 8 oz Polenta
  • 2 oz Arugula
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Shallot
  • 1 Sprig Thyme
  • 1/2 oz Parsley
  • 2 oz Sour Cream
  • 1/4 c Parmesan cheese
  • 1 T Vegetable stock concentrate
  • 1 T Butter
  • 2 T Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 splash of Lemon juise
  • Salt & Pepper


Sliced mushrooms

Ragu basics

Polenta sliced

Polenta frying

Sauteed mushShallots and garlic

Ragu Spices simmering

Ragu simmering

Polenta plated

Ragu finished

I made the Arugula salad the next day and it was fantastic! Balsamic vinegar, Lemon juice and Olive Oil with Salt and Pepper to taste. Toss and top with shredded Parmesan cheese!

Arugula salad

We had quite a bit leftover and I made some penne and topped it with the Ragu, fabulous!

Penne and ragu


Math, Cooking, and Children? A TOS Review of “Eat Your Math Homework”

The amazing Ann McCallum has found a way to combine cooking and lessons, in ways both parents and children won’t be able to resist!  Our newest Schoolhouse Review Crew review has made our lessons mouthwatering, relational, hilarious, exciting, AND delicious.  What a combination!  Ann McCallum Books’ cookbook for parents and kids, Eat Your Math Homework, was given to us to use and review in softcover version.  And, oh, did we love it!

Eat Your Math banner

What is Eat Your Math Homework?

Eat Your Math Homework is the ultimate way to add both cooking and math fun (yes, you heard me right–math FUN!) to your homeschool days.  Author Ann McCallum has created recipes that teach math functions and principles of various levels that are just right for parents and kids to prepare together, fulfilling the books’ subtitle: “Recipes for Hungry Minds.”  Along with each recipe, McCallum includes a mini-math lesson that teaches a bit more, as well as math puzzles or problems for students to solve.  Illustrator Leeza Hernandez’ humorous illustrations add hilarity to every page.


Amusing illustrations and interesting text

Amusing illustrations and interesting text

In this delightful cookbook (designed for elementary students, but just as great for teens), you’ll be able to prepare recipes to teach your children about the following:

  • Fibonacci sequence
  • Fractions
  • Tessellations
  • Tangrams
  • Pi
  • Probability

There is even a free downloadable teacher’s guide to go along with Eat Your Math Homework available at  the author’s website.  Just scroll down to and click on the tab that says Downloadables on the Eat Your Math Homework page and you’ll be taken right to it.


Assembling the Fibonacci Snack Sticks

Assembling the Fibonacci Snack Sticks

How we used Eat Your Math Homework:

As you can imagine—we read it, laughed over it, learned from it….and used its recipes to learn more about amazing math concepts!  First, we’d read the math introduction to whichever recipe we were about to cook together.  (I’m the mom of an only son, so Jackson, my eighth grader, and I did all the prep and the cooking.)  Next, we’d read the ingredients list together and the recipe steps.  Then, we’d collect the ingredients and the cooking utensils/pans we’d be needing.  And then—off to the races, or to the kitchen, in this case!

So far, we have prepared Fibonacci Snack Sticks, Variable Pizza Pi, and Fraction Chips.  I loved the clear illustrations of math each provided…and each one was absolutely delicious.  For the sake of utter math and food coolness, though, I’d have to say that the Fibonacci Snack Sticks were the best.  We’ll definitely use these recipes again.  And investigate all the other ones in the book!


...and the Variable Pizza Pi

…and the Variable Pizza Pi

What we thought about Eat Your Math Homework:

This is an easy one!  We love, love, loved it.  From the clearly-explained math concepts, to the amusing illustrations, to the delicious meals and snacks we prepared, we relished every single moment with this book. My son Jackson commented on how fun it was to make the recipes; his expectations were both met and exceeded!

And not only did the book, the recipes, and the food allow for pleasant experiences, the time together in the kitchen did as well.  The two of us had so much fun cooking and laughing together as we worked through the recipes in Eat Your Math Homework.  So this book allowed us some truly exceptional times together.  What a great addition to our homeschool days!


And preparing the Fraction Chips!

And preparing the Fraction Chips!

In conclusion:

I highly recommend Ann McCallum Books’ cookbook Eat Your Math Homework.  For kids, it will teach awesome things about math, and provide great cooking experiences.  For parents, it will provide exciting and learning-filled activities to teach their kiddos.  Maybe it will even help them to love math!

You may purchase Eat Your Math Homework for $7.95 at Ann McCallum Books.  (And you can check out all her other wonderful books.)  Don’t miss this delightful cookbook experience!

Enjoy!  –Wren

Ann McCallum Books Review
Crew Disclaimer

1 2 3 81


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial
%d bloggers like this: