U.S. History Detective Book One ~ A Review

Do you children enjoy a good detective story?

What if they could approach American history as if they were trying to solve a mystery?

U.S. Hist Detect Book 1 BannerIf this sounds appealing to you, then my latest review item from The Critical Thinking Co. may be just the thing you’re looking for!  U.S. History Detective Book One (authored by Steven Greif) is a fascinating and user-friendly history book that both teens and parents will enjoy.

What is U.S. History Detective Book One?

Subtitled “Colonial Era to Reconstruction Era,” U.S. History Detective Book One is a history text covering the history of America from pre-1492 through 1869.  An 8 1/2″ x 11″ softcover consumable book, it’s designed for students in grades 8-12.  The book contains reading material, multiple-choice and essay questions, reviews, timelines, vocabulary, maps, and even fun facts that tell the student interesting things that they might not have already known.  Depending on the age and needs of the student, U.S. History Detective Book One can either be used as the main history spine or as a supplemental one.

Am Hist Det pic 4

U.S. History Detective Book One contains 9 history sections, each containing  6-10 individual lessons expanding on different events during that particular era or time period.  Here’s a listing of the different eras covered in this book:

  • The Colonial Era
  • The Revolutionary Era
  • The Federal Era
  • The Nationalism Era
  • The Reform Era
  • The Expansion Era
  • The Sectional Conflict Era
  • The Civil War Era
  • Reconstruction Era

Each era, or section, begins with an overview of the major events, changes, geographical areas or historical figures which influenced or occurred during that time period.  Then, the individual lessons begin, with several pages of reading in each lesson.  Following the reading are multiple choice and essay questions, with a review segment every few chapters, as well as some bonus activities requiring both inductive and critical thinking.

US Hist Det pic 1How we used it:

My son Jackson is in the 8th grade this year, so we have been using U.S. History Detective Book One as part 1 of our American history studies for middle school.  We spent about 3 days per week studying this.  On the first day, Jackson would complete the reading material on his own in the lesson we were studying.  On the next day, he’d work on the multiple-choice questions.  And then he’d complete the essay questions.  This also included a review of the lesson he’d read as he worked on the questions.  On the third day, we’d start the process over again with either reading of the next lesson, or completing the reviews which occur intermittently after one or two chapters, depending on how much information was covered.  Students need to review the chapter/s which the review covers, which will enable them to answer the questions and ensure that they’re learning the necessary points.

US Hist Det pic 2Because I read the lessons before I assign them to Jackson, I have a good idea of both what he’ll be learning as well as what he’ll need to know when he has finished the chapter.  And, I also can tell which parts of each lesson will need further study.  Occasionally, we’d work together on the essay portions, which require students to write short narrative, informative or expository essays as they answer the questions.

Our impressions:

As a homeschooling parent, I’ve found U.S. History Detective Book One to be an exceptional tool for learning history.  The lessons are arranged well and the information is presented in an interesting way.  The questions at the end of each lesson are designed for students to gain the maximum benefit from what they’ve read, as well as enabling them to grow in critical thinking.  The graphics, maps, photos and illustrations are eye-catching and beautiful.

Am Hist Det pic 3

The lesson lengths are just right and very accessible, so that students build knowledge upon knowledge and skill upon skill.  One of the things that I found to be a fantastic benefit to the book is the essay portion.  As students enter the high school years, essay writing becomes more and more important and truly a vital skill.  I really appreciated this important part of each lesson.  It not only gave Jackson many opportunities to write, but for me to discern which parts of his writing needed strengthening.

The text is highly readable and enjoyable, while very informative.  The maps and timelines provide excellent graphic information about the lessons, and benefit the student’s learning process.

Am Hist Det pic 5And, I also loved that U.S. History Detective Book One doesn’t teach ONLY history.  Rather, it interweaves what was happening in art, in journalism, in political writing, in economics, in scientific invention along with what was happening historically in each era.  That even provides rabbit trails for further educational exploration as you study the course!

Lastly, as a homeschool mom, I found the lessons to be very easy to prepare.  (There is also an answer key at the back of the book if you need it.)  I enjoyed the review for myself, but really appreciated how simple my preparation and presentation was.

In conclusion:

As you can imagine from its name, The Critical Thinking Co. creates curricula and resources designed to teach students and gives them opportunities to build and strengthen critical thinking skills.  U.S. History Detective Book One is not just a knowledge-in, knowledge-out curriculum.  Instead, it stretches teens by presenting information and causing the students to think and ask themselves questions.  Why did this event happen?  Why did politicians react this way during this era?  Why did they make this choice rather that that choice?  All of this not only furthers the student’s education but enables him to grow in maturity and understanding.

Am Hist Det pic 6

This design is perfect for the students in grades 8-12, who are at this time in their development, beginning to ask all those “why” questions.  I  believe that’s where the “Detective” part of this book comes in, since the job of a detective is to search for clues and discover mysteries and secrets.  That’s exactly what students will be doing with U.S. History Detective Book One…as they’re putting together a worldview and picture of America and the events that shaped her.

I believe you’ll find U.S. History Detective Book One both fascinating, useful, and integral for teaching history as well as critical thinking skills!  We recommend it highly.

U.S. History Detective Book One can be purchased at The Critical Thinking Co. in both paperback and e-book form for $39.99.

Enjoy!  –Wren

Disclaimer:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share my own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.  We received a copy of U.S. History Detective Book One to review, free from The Critical Thinking Co.


Family, Fun & Homeschooling ~ Meet Heather from “Running with Spears”

F,F & H finchnwren.com

I want to introduce you to a fascinating blogger today named Heather Kelley.  Heather’s blog Running With Spears was nominated in the 2014 Homeschool Blog Awards from The Homeschool Post.  Her category?  Best Nitty Gritty Blog.  And, she was a finalist!

I’m always looking for fun new blogs, and I love to browse through all the blogs that were nominated for The Homeschool Post’s blog awards each year.  Heather’s blog is truly a breath of fresh air.  As you might guess from the category she was nominated for, she shares in an open and honest manner….that is actually hilarious as well!  (Seriously, she could easily  have been nominated for Funniest Homeschool Blog!)

She’s also a great photographer.  You MUST click over to her blog and look at her header!  Her self-portrait is SO fun.  (Plus, she has really cute glasses.)

Without further ado—-here’s Heather from Running With Spears!

Heather Kelley headshot

How did you come up with your wonderful blog?

So, my blog title, Running With Spears was actually inspired by a quote from Avatar: The Last Airbender, “Love each other, respect all life, and don’t run with your spears.” I want my blog to be a place that does the first two, and the third, well, we’re pretty crazy and not so great at following rules around here, so if we had any spears, I’m pretty sure we’d be the type of people who would totally run with them!

Heather Kelly pic 1Do you have a favorite blogging topic that you return to again and again?

Nope. I have two favorites. 😉
a) I am a real, actual person who does NOT have it all together, which I will demonstrate by giving you a peek into my messy, unglamorous life.
b) Enough with the judgement already. We don’t need to spew random criticism of everyone all over Facebook. What good does it do the world for there to be one more article about how horrible the people are who make different parenting choices than I do? Oh no, that person over there let their kid eat nothing but french fries at McDonald’s, let me tell the world what a better Mom I am than that! Oy! Just no.

Tell us about your family. How did you and your husband meet? And what would you like to share about your kiddos?

On our first date we sat at the theater and watched some awful movie that was actually a sequel to some other movie I’d never seen. My (now) husband kept trying to whisper stuff to me the whole time about what was going on but it was just annoying. I probably would have left immediately after that and never dated him again, but he had promised to buy me his favorite truffle from a chocolate shop at the mall, and well, I’m a sucker for chocolate. We ended up hanging out for hours and hours, and now we’re about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary!

Heather Kelley pic 3

We have three girls ages eight, five and one. They are, of course, a blessing and a handful. 😉

What made you decide to homeschool?
I was homeschooled, so I always planned on at least considering it. Then my oldest was diagnosed with SPD and when it was time for her to start kindergarten, homeschool seemed by far the best option to meet her needs. So it’s what we did, and it just stuck.

Heather Kelley pic 2

What does a day in your homeschool look like?
Insanity. 😉

I jest. But right now we mostly unschool, except for math. So it looks different every day. Often it looks like lots of playing and making messes, and it always includes me drinking lots of coffee, and praying for help!

Do you have a favorite “date night” you love to do?

We rarely manage to get a sitter for the kids, but we have a standing Sunday night game night. After we get the kids in bed we pull out one of our favorite board games like Smash Up or Small World and battle one another to the death. (What? Me, hyperbolize? Never.)

What are some of your favorite mama-child activities?

With three littles, one-on-one time can be hard to come by. Simple things like taking just one of my girls with me to the grocery store when my husband is working from home and can watch the others qualifies as a special date around here. I like to play board games with my eldest two, but I really can’t stand Sorry and Monopoly and the like, so we play stuff more along the lines of Zombie Dice and Castle Panic. We also like to play Just Dance on our Wii.

Heather Kelley pic 4

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which occurs each November 1-30) last year I wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel featuring a strong, brave, powerful girl who is also sensitive and caring and likes to wear dresses. It’s been such a fun process. Hopefully one of these days before long it will be published and you guys will all get to read it! If you want to see updates, be sure to follow my Facebook page.

Heather’s bio:
Heather Kelley can usually be found with her nose in a fantasy book, when she’s not
homeschooling her capricious, quirky girls, or playing computer games with her husband.
She can also be found on her blog, Running With Spears, where she shares her whimsical
misadventures and crazy thoughts, but only when properly caffeinated.

So…Heather’s everything I told you and more, isn’t she?  :)  One of her recent posts that I really enjoyed was her Father’s Day post:  10 Best Dads in Children’s Books.  (I HAD to include this one because I adore Hans Hubermann, Charles Ingalls and Matthew Cuthbert.  Best book dads ever!)

Hop over to visit Heather at Running With Spears.  And we’ll be back next week to introduce you to another fabulous new blogger!

Enjoy!  –Wren



A new healthy summer favorite!

Discovered this at Sam’s club last weekend: Del Monte Watermelon spears!

This box holds three pounds of perfectly ripe, dense watermelon spears.

Watermelon top

Watermelon actualTaste amazing and so perfect for breakfast or on a summer day; took them to work this week and they were fantastic! I also saw a recipe that uses a square of watermelon (2 inches high) with a small square of feta cheese attached to the bottom with a toothpick and a sprig of mint to garnish. With these spears you could make a ton of those for appetizers!



21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation Course ~ A Review

*Affiliate links are included in this post.*

What do you use in your homeschool to teach music appreciation?

Are you a trained musician, who finds it simple to teach about musical eras, composers, and styles?  (I am not, by the way!)

21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation

I have to admit that I love music. And, that I spent years in choir, both at school and at church.

But I have never felt that I was particularly equipped to teach about music.  So you can imagine how happy I was to review 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation!  I received a free copy of this wonderful curriculum from Gena Mayo to review.  What a lovely experience it has been!

Gena has solved my difficulty in teaching about music completely….and has created a music appreciation curriculum that is both a joy and a delight to use!  21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation is a beautiful tool for homeschoolers (or even music or homeschool coop teachers) everywhere who’d like to add a course on the musical fine arts to their learning times with children.  It’s designed to be used for students all the way from K-12.

What is 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation?

21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation is a fascinating, user-friendly curriculum which covers American music in the twentieth century.  In each of the 21 chapters, Gena introduces students to a particular composer or music style.  She tells us a little about the composer (or the musical style), and what was happening in America during his time.  And then, the most exciting part; Gena has linked to YouTube performances of the composers’ famous works….and podcasts about them as well!  (Gena does recommend that parents always check the YouTube and Internet links before playing them for children; as we all know, links can change without notice.)  She also includes snippets of what was going on historically in America, so that students can understand how musical themes and history influenced each other.

Here is just a short list of the wonderful composers and works you’ll be studying with 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation:

  • Scott Joplin and Fats Waller
  • The Blues
  • Marches
  • Folk Opera and Classical Opera
  • Big Band
  • Aaron Copland
  • Musical Theater
  • and so much more!

21 Lessons for 20th Century American Music Appreciation

How we used 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation:

21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation is arranged chronologically, so that you start at the end of the 19th century and move chapter by chapter to post-1965 musical theater.  And Gena really has made this curriculum so simple and easy to use.  I printed a copy of the curriculum for myself, to keep in a folder so that I could see at a glance what we’d be covering in a given week.  But this was really just a reference tool for me.  The course itself is an ebook, so once it’s purchased you can save it on your computer.  This is what you really want to do, because of the multiple links in each chapter that take you to the YouTube performances of each musical piece.  (You can utilize this curriculum on both your computer or iPad.)

So, we started with Gena’s first chapter, which is about John Philip Sousa.  Of course, most of us will probably associate Sousa with bands and marches.  But Gena included more fascinating information about him that I’d never known.  And the musical performances!  I was astonished.  Several of them were compositions which were familiar to me, but I’d never known that Sousa was the composer!

I read aloud to my son the information about the composer, and then we followed the links to each of the compositions/performances included with the composer.  We listened to the music together.  The entire chapter took about 20 minutes from start to finish.  And it was so enjoyable–as well as informative!

In addition, Gena has included notebooking pages for students in the curriculum, so that they can record facts about both the composer and the musical pieces themselves.

Our conclusions:

My son Jackson is in the 8th grade, and he has taken piano since he was in kindergarten.  And he is definitely a music lover.  But honestly, he’d never learned about any of the music we’ve found in 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation.  When we listened to the compositions together, we were just delighted with the music–our feet were really tapping!  And it’s not just the compositions themselves that are fantastic.  The YouTube videos of top-notch musicians performing these pieces are just a pleasure to watch.

Here’s what Jackson had to say about it:

“I liked it very much!  And I loved hearing that music for the first time.  It is very good!”

As for myself, I couldn’t have selected a simpler or more enjoyable music appreciation curriculum.  It truly is one of the easiest curricula I’ve ever taught—even without having a strong musical history background.  The compositions Gena chose to go with this curriculum (the ones you’ll link to in each chapter) are so vibrant, beautiful, and professionally done.  You really sense as you move through the curriculum that Gena has not only a deep love for music, but for teaching young people about music.  I love her gentle manner of teaching.  It makes the entire experience truly wonderful.

So…where can you find this wonderful music appreciation program?

Gena Mayo, the author of 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation, has priced this curriculum at $25.  (It’s a simple download, so you won’t have to pay for shipping.)

But for the month of August, she’s offering the 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation at 50% off, or only $12.50!  You can simply click on the banner below to go to the purchase page.  Just use the code August50 to get 50% off!

Both Jackson and I happily recommend 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation.  It is a joy and a delight….especially for the busy homeschool mom who already has many subjects to teach!


21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation

Be sure to visit Gena at her amazing blog, I Choose Joy.  You’ll be encouraged!

Enjoy!  –Wren

DISCLOSURE:  Finch and Wren have affiliate relationships with a number of excellent companies.  If you purchase an item through our affiliate links, finchnwren will earn a commission.  However, you will never pay more for the item when you purchase it through our links.  And, we only recommend products that we truly believe in.  Thank you!

A Snapshot of Our 8th Grade Studies

I can hardly believe it, but my son’s 8th grade year started last Wednesday.

We have been homeschooling since pre-K, when we began our beloved Five in a Row series.  Can that possibly make this year 10?

8th Grade Curriculum

Yes, I think it can!  (I’m already thinking about high school transcripts.)  In any case, we’ve started into the school year and are building our routine.  It IS exciting.  Jackson is studying a lot of fascinating subjects this year, which makes the work we’re doing even more interesting.  Here’s a rundown of what we’re doing physically…and virtually!


Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
First of all….for mom!

Earlier this spring, I reviewed a wonderful homeschool resource by Stephanie Walmsley called Successful Homeschooling Made EasyWhat a great resource, even for a somewhat “seasoned” homeschool mama!  It’s an e-course, and Stephanie sends one chapter and lesson per week.  I have picked up many tips and ideas that I hadn’t come up with in my own experience.  I especially love her scheduling ideas.  They have made our homeschool days feel very gentle and lovely.

Prasso Student 1Bible

For Bible, we’re continuing to use the Experiencing God at Home devotional book for our daily reading.  Once we have our routine down, we’ll add Prasso Ministries’ Teen Prasso
Bible study.  We reviewed that as well, but didn’t get all the way through the book.  It’s fantastic for teen boys (and probably girls too—my experience is just with boys!).  It has a great running story about two teen brothers tucked in with the Bible study, verses, and Q&A.


One of our online courses is Fascinating Education‘s Fascinating Biology.  We reviewed the company’s Fascinating Chemistry last year and really enjoyed it…and learned a lot as well.  We’re also hoping to do a Physical Science course this year, although it will start a little later in the semester.

Proj Gen 4We’re also really happy to be using EEME‘s electronic kits for kids.  (My cousin told me that he works on similar projects—although more complicated—in his high school physics class.  Nice!)  These are so amazing and they teach fantastic science skills.  Plus they’re just so fun to complete!

U.S. History DetectiveSocial Studies

We’re using a brand-new resource (look for its review later this week!) called U.S. History Detective Book 1 from The Critical Thinking Co.  It starts with early Native Americans and moves all the way through post-Civil War Reconstruction.  (I’ll tell you more about that later this week!)

We’re also continuing with Geography Through Art by Sharon Jeffus.  It has neat art projects connected to world geographical areas.  So creative, and great learning tools!


Ah, the dreaded math.  (At least at our house—apologies to my friend Joy!)

However, I’m seeking to remove some of that dread this year by following some of Stephanie Walmsley’s excellent ideas.  We’re using Unlock Math‘s pre-algebra, as well as a new resource (review coming on that one as well!) called Stinky Kid Math.  That one covers pre-algebra, algebra 1 & 2, and geometry.  We won’t likely cover all four of those, but we’ll definitely work on the first two.  Both these resources are online curricula.


This year, we’re still doing read-alouds along with our readers.  We’re starting out with a biography of C.S. Lewis (with a companion unit study that covers more literature, geography, history, art) which we work on 4 days per week or so.  Then at night, when my husband is available, we do another book together that we’d normally do during school hours.  The difference is really only the time of day!  It provides great discussion time as well, when we can all three weigh in.  I’m not quite sure of all the titles we’ll do as RAs this year, but I am relying heavily on Sonlight’s excellent book lists.

And of course, we must do readers as well!  I’m using Sonlight’s lists for readers, too.  Now Jackson is reading Kate Seredy’s The Good Master, and we’ll do The Arrow Over the Door next.  We’re just working our way down a lengthy list of great books.

Jackson journals about each chapter after he reads it.

Grammar et al

For grammar, we’ll continue with some excellent resources from other Schoolhouse Crew reviews.  We’re using Fix-It Grammar from Institute for Excellence in Writing, Logic of English‘s Rhythm of Handwriting, and various middle school writing prompts and other creative writing tools.

I know we’ll be adding more (foreign language, keyboarding, computer programming, piano lessons) soon.  But it’s vital to me to get a great routine going first.  Then we can add those great extras!

What are you using for your curricula this year?  Blessings to you for an amazing year!

Enjoy!  –Wren

Things we love…Jaeger!

Well this seems like the perfect follow up to our furry family taking over the blog this week!

Meet Jaeger (German for Hunter), our new addition! He’s a German Shepherd puppy and just came home with us today. He was 8 weeks old on 8.20.15 and he already weighs 18 pounds. Stay tuned, I think it’s going to get even wilder around here!!

Jaeger first day home 8.22.25

If you are wondering why his ear is green, they paint it that color before the breeder tattoos his number in his ear. I know…a little young for a tattoo!


5 Tips for Challenging Times ~ Guest Post at Home Sweet Life

My dear friend Carol is featuring my post today at her darling blog, at Home Sweet Life!

5 Tips for Challenging Times banner

It was kind of funny.  I was going to write a post on healthy living.  But as my deadline grew closer, I thought that maybe God wanted me to write on something else; some of the things I’m learning about getting through tough times.  (And this, from the girl who’s spent her life avoiding the book of Job!)

Not what I expected.  But I really enjoyed thinking about some of the things God has taught me in some recent trials.

Here’s a little of it, just to whet your appetite:

“How do you hang on when tough times come?

I always (not to brag)  thought I had tough times handled.  You know, surviving in crisis mode for a bit, then going back to my usual schedule.  Oops!  That was for all my OLD challenges.  Not the ones that recently hit us.”

You can jump over to Home Sweet Life to read the rest by clicking on the banner above or on 5 Tips for Challenging Times.

I hope you’ll visit Carol’s lovely blog!

Enjoy!  –Wren

Cleo and Oz Blog Takeover Day 4 of 4: Animals…in SPACE?!! and Jackson wraps it up

Well, the takeover’s nearly finished now. We each got one post, but we must say a temporary goodbye as we board our spaceshuttle to the International Animals Space Kennel. We are so excited! Oliver is skittering about in excitement, Cleo is floating about the rocket having a merry little day and I am writing this post until the WiFi runs out. Farewell, until Blog Takeover II! We may not come back from space We will come back soon. Very soon, we want to see Finch again. Goodbye! -Cleo, Oz and Oliver

Cleo Oz Takeover rocket


Now switching gears, so to speak… Hi everyone! Jackson here! Hope you enjoyed the Blog Takeover! I had fun making this stuff for the blog! Who knows, maybe there’ll be another…


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