Review: Read With Me Kids Custom Books (and a Cool App, Too!)

I recently had the chance to check out a new app called Read With Me Kids. The app allows you to make personalized books for your child.

I found the app easy to use. You fill out a form and add pictures from your phone’s photo album. The app walks you through instructions on what pictures to add. There are quite a few options for story templates to fill in and customize. Some are free, some cost a couple dollars to create a digital book–I found the personalization to be good enough to be worth the money.

When completed, you are able to view a digital copy of your book and edit it further. I used the Space Adventure template and was able to add in my own images from our recent trip to Kennedy Space Center, making it both a story book and a memory book all at once. I was able to completely delete several of the template images to use my own, which was awesome!

Sample page from the digital version of the book.

I found the app to be very user friendly and it does have two sections of instructions on the home screen, listed with the sample books, called Hints for Parents and Welcome Parents. You can find a lot of information there.

A Christmas Gift Guide for Classical Students

Classically educating parents work hard to create a learning environment, so that even when formal schooling isn’t happening, learning never stops. Educational toys are a great way to support that learning–whether you are a home school mom, or a family member wondering what to get those kids! Here’s some of my favorite ideas, organized by subject.


Simple Wooden World Map

This simple wooden world map puzzle is great for preschoolers. The neat part, in my opinion, is that you could take the puzzle pieces and trace them for Blob Map practice! This puzzle is great for reinforcing the simple shapes of the continents for the youngest students.

For older students, Draw the World is my favorite geography resource. It walks students through the details of drawing the world and it gives tips and tricks for remembering what to do. We’ve had so much fun with this book in our house (and the rest of the series, which has each individual continent in detail).


A good book of science experiments is always a great idea. Look for the kind that uses every day household items instead of ones that require complicated tools that make it nearly impossible to do the experiments. This one has lots of simple projects with explanations of how they work. Or try this one, that has kitchen science for learning in a real life setting.

For kids that love Legos, check out a book full of Lego science experiments. My son loved this one a couple of years ago.

Moving beyond books, a toy that has been wildly popular in our home is Snap Circuits. My son quickly moved from the projects suggest in the book to making up his own. It’s been great fun for several years going now.


It’s never too early to start exposing kiddos to Latin. Song School Latin is a fun way to introduce kids to Latin and get them excited for the years ahead. No, I’m not kidding. My youngest child already walks around the house singing, “A, Ae, Ae, Am, A!” He has no idea what it means but when he’s 12 and it’s time to break out Henle Latin, he will surely be glad that those declension songs are engrained in his brain.

Know a Classical Kid who loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid?!? Did you know that you can get the first book in the series completely translated into Latin? For real!


Mad Libs are a really fun way to review English grammar without even realizing you are doing school–and isn’t that every home school mom’s ultimate goal?! From Star Wars to Frozen and everything else you can imagine, Mad Libs are a fantastic learning game that is so fun they won’t even question why it is a Christmas gift. Plus, the average price is $4. Can’t lose!

Scrabble Junior is a great board game for the kids not quite ready for the adult version.

For a fun night of story telling, Rory’s Story Cubes is a fun way to get the story going. Roll the dice for story prompts and make up a story to go along with your rolls.  Also a great tool when a child can’t decide what to write.


Test your knowledge of all kinds of history with a fun game called Chronology. Try to put random events in order. Which came first?  For singers of the Timeline Song, this game is great reinforcement–with lots of silliness mixed in.


Math games are a great way to sneak in review of math facts while keeping the competitive spirit in the family alive and well. Try Absolute Zero, a card game with the goal of having zero point. Or try solving mysteries in a game of Mathological Liar! Someone’s math doesn’t quite add up–and that someone is guilty.

Other Great Fun and Learning

I’m heavily considering getting this for my son. You get to build your own droid and then write coding to control him. It would totally make him freak out!

Or have them build their own computer! What better way to get value out of computer time?!?

How about a series of books for babies that explains the basics of topics such as Quantam Physics? I’ve been eyeing this series at Target for several months and the next baby shower I go to, this is going to be the gift! Quantum Physics for Babies will not disappoint!

The Lego Architecture series is phenomenal for building creativity, ability to follow instructions, and reviewing history, culture and geography all at once. It’s hard to beat. Check out this great Shanghai set!


Mixing fun and learning is the goal of most home school moms. Support them in their goals with a great gift for their kids–something that mixes fun and learning so well, the kids don’t even realize they are learning! Happy gift giving!

The Kindergarten Blues

I’ve got the Kindergarten Blues. See, the big kids are 11 and 13 and we are studying Logic and Latin and writing persuasive essays and learning to use a microscope and all sorts of exciting things. I have been waiting and waiting and WAITING for this stage of life! I’m good at paper writing and editing and I’ve been dreaming for years of studying Latin along with my kids. This is the life I’ve always wanted…

And then there’s the little guy. He’s five and he’s living in a different world than his older siblings. And me? I am struggling big time to change gears and find things to do with him that are age appropriate and FUN. Because if we don’t establish in Kindergarten that learning can be fun, his entire educational journey could be a disaster (am I being too dramatic here? Probably.)

Math U See Primer!

He sits in on morning time with us each day, so he’s listening in on the things we do together, and I’ve scaled some of it to his level to make it work for him. He’s doing Math U See Primer and rocking it. And we are doing A Reason For Handwriting. He’s not ready for phonics. He had a fairly traumatic summer with all his medical stuff and he seems to have regressed a bit in letter recognition since then. So I am leaving that alone and we will try again after Christmas.  We try to go to as many local events as we can, because they cover all kinds of different learning experiences. We recently rode a historic steam engine and when to a motorcycle stunt show. And of course, we have Classical Conversations, which starts for us in a couple weeks (we start later than most).

Motorcycle Stunt Show

But he needs more FUN in his kindergarten life and I’m struggling to change gears and get back to that age level mindset again. I’m trying to come up with a list of ways to infuse more FUN into his school day and here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Spend more time at the library picking out books that are on topics that interest him (mostly numbers, cats, and dinosaurs!)
  • Actually read those books together when we get home (yes, this is a struggle in our house sometimes!)
  • Play card games. He’s really into War and I think it’s a great game for reinforcing greater than and less than concepts.
  • Kumon Workbooks. They were a huge hit when the big kids were small and I forgot all about them. They aren’t typical workbooks, they have a lot of tracing and cutting and gluing worksheets that are really fun.
  • Cooking together. He always wants to cook and I tend to tell him no because it’s faster and less messy if he doesn’t help. But I am working on being better about that.

As a Challenge Director, I am constantly telling Foundations families, “The memory work is enough!” And it is. It really is enough to form the foundations for junior high and high school. But it’s not enough to make them fall in love with learning, not on its own.  This has always been a struggle for me. I remember when my older son was five, he asked me, “When is school going to be fun?” Sigh. I’m not good at Kindergarten. I can rock eighth grade like you would not BELIEVE, but I stink at Kindergarten.

Not every phase and stage of home schooling is our best or favorite. But all of it is important and I think the best thing we can do is recognize the areas where we struggle and reach out and ask for help. It’s ok to ask for help–I’m so glad that the home school community is thriving and so helpful. We can get each other through the rough times and cheer each other on when life gets hard.

Kindergarten needs to be more than workbook pages (but some workbook pages are worthwhile!)

Do you have awesome Kindergarten ideas? Share links to your favorite blog posts in the commends, because this momma NEEDS them to cure her Kindergarten Blues!

Why We Switched to Teaching Textbooks (and why we love it!)

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I take on too much! I just… have lots of interests and lots of things that are important to me and sometimes I overload myself. For example, right at this very moment I am planning three different vacations, directing a challenge class at my Classical Conversations community, learning all about blogging and writing this blog, running an etsy shop, and teaching kids in China ESL through Skype. Oh yeah, and home schooling my own kids and carting them to all their activities.

Sometimes I have to look at my schedule and decide what to cut and what I can make easier for myself. Where am I not giving 100%? Why am I not giving 100%? What could I do to make it better?

This past year it became glowingly obvious that one of the areas where I was faltering was working on math with the two older kids. Sometimes with everything else on my plate, I would just not have time to correct their lessons. And here’s what would happen, in a vicious loop:

  • They’d complete a lesson and ask me to grade it.
  • I would MEAN to get it done but eight other things would pile up on my desk on top of the math book and it wouldn’t get done.
  • They’d come back for their math book and do the next lesson, never even knowing if they made mistakes in the previous lesson.
  • They’d complete the next lesson and ask me to grade it.

Sigh.  Sometimes they’d get to the end of the book and I’d have to start them at the beginning again because I’d realize they hadn’t really grasped any of the concepts. And it’s not their fault at all–it was completely, totally, all on me. I needed to fix this problem but wasn’t sure how.

Enter Teaching Textbooks. Last year, directing Challenge A, ALL my students (other than my child!) used Teaching Textbooks. That so many mommas who obviously had similar educational goals as me were using it caught my attention. My kids finished up the books they were working through and we dove into Teaching Textbooks for the first time.

Getting cozy to do math with just a computer and a white board. Doesn’t get any easier than that!

So how does it work? It’s like magic. OK, maybe it’s not MAGIC, but it’s as close to magic as you can get when discussing math curriculum. Depending on which version you are using, the child either logs onto the website or loads up a disc on the computer. They watch a lesson, and then they do the problems and enter the answers into the computer. The computer tells them which ones they did correctly and which ones were wrong. I am able to go in and delete wrong answers so that they can try, try again. And again. And again if necessary. We don’t move on from a lesson until they can get 100% on the current one. Math is marathon, not a sprint.

Doing Algebra on her iPhone. Algebra on her iPhone. Let that sink in. AMAZING!

At the time we first switched, someone offered me Pre-Algebra for my daughter, so she used the disc version. But my son finished his other book up right as Teaching Textbooks released their newest version, 3.0. Teaching Textbooks 3.0 is all online! What?!? No discs! No books (unless you want the book–it’s still available but you can absolutely work without it.) If you hate clutter like I do, you will LOVE not having a book or discs to drag around the house. Also, there’s no “I can’t do math, I can’t find my book.” Math is available from any computer, phone, or tablet at any time. *Insert evil mom laughter.*. And we have a MacBook–no disc drive. So we had to use an external one to load the discs. One more thing to have to find before doing math. But no more! Teaching Textbooks 3.0 is saving my butt in more ways than one!

When you log into TT3.0, you can log in as a parent or as a student. Now, my computer will only save the password for ONE, not both. Hmm. Obviously, I have mommy brain so I had it save the password for ME and not my child. I just told him what his password was and to remember it.

Big Mistake.

Middle Child is pretty smart. And he realized quickly that my password was saved in the computer. I caught him logging into the parent side and erasing wrong answers on quizzes. B-U-S-T-E-D, you are busted! (Are we the only family that sings that song on a daily basis? Anyway…). So the moral of that story is don’t save your password. Learn from my mistakes!

You can log into the parent or student side from the same home page.

Here are some cool features of the new 3.0 version (you know, besides the clutter free miracle that we already discussed).

  • You can access the e-book on the website so that you can still read the lessons with your child or if they learn better from reading rather than through the lecture format. I love that it’s flexible to different learning styles! (And it’s the same textbook from the previous version, so if you already have it and decide to switch to 3.0, you can still use the book you have!)

    E-book version of the text book.
  • You can easily change your “buddy”. Now to be honest, my daughter used the 2.0 version on her own and I never looked at it very closely. But apparently being able to change your buddy easily is a big deal for kids who are used to the old format. If that’s you, you’ll love this! My football obsessed son was happy to switch to a football player! And you can also switch the wallpaper, there’s a lot to choose from. When you are staring at the screen doing math it’s nice to be able to adjust it to look different now and then!

  • You can go into the grade book and delete individual wrong answers so that the child can go back and do JUST the problems missed over again. We use this feature all the time and I love it.

You can check the score on each lesson and delete incorrect answers to have your student try again.

  • And you can use it on an iPhone or iPad or any other phone or tablet that allows you to download the Puffin Browser.

Take that in, mommas. If you are on a road trip and your kids are fighting in the back seat, you can hand one of them your phone and make them do a math lesson. See if they ever argue again about who actually crossed the state line into Ohio first!

This. Is. Groundbreaking.

I also need to say that the customer service is phenomenal. When I first purchased the subscription to 3.0 for my middle child, something went wrong somewhere and I never received the email confirmation that it went through (I blame my email service, honestly). I got in touch with customer service and they fixed the situation in probably under a minute. I was so impressed!

Why else do I love Teaching Textbooks (and especially Teaching Textbooks 3.0)? My goal is to work myself right out of a job. That is, my goal is to raise independent learners who love seeking knowledge. I am not force feeding them information anymore–the big kids are 13 and almost 11 now and it’s time for them to be taking on more and more of their education themselves. Teaching Textbooks has given them both the independence to learn math without needing me there right beside them. I mean, of course if a lesson is hard (middle child  still cries over fractions, to be honest), I CAN and I WILL sit next to him and help him any way I can. But since about 85% of the time he can work through it alone now, he is free to learn math on his own and he is not stuck waiting on me to be ready. He can work faster, or slower, or whatever he needs to do to understand a lesson. He is in complete control of his math education now. That is amazing freedom for him and a huge part of growing up and maturing. I don’t know too many 11 year olds who get to take that much control of their own education. It’s kind of… beautiful. OK, now I’m getting all teary eyed over MATH. Honestly, who am I?!? 😉

Middle Child working on his math snuggled up on the couch.

When I first heard of Teaching Textbooks, I hesitated. It sounded too good to be true, for one thing. For another, I had jumped math curriculum several times and was afraid of doing it again. But luckily there are great placement tests available to help you put your child in the right level–and I’ll be honest, it didn’t match up exactly with what they’d just completed in different curriculum. Definitely use the placement test to make sure you are in the right level! (I recommend starting at your guess of the correct level and do one placement test a day in place of a math lesson until you figure it out. If you make your child do multiple placement tests in one day, they will get frustrated and make sloppy mistakes… Not that I know from experience or anything…OK, I do know from experience.)

A subscription gives your student a full year to finish the curriculum–and you can pause it for summer break or vacation and it won’t count against your time. It’s super flexible and works with your family’s schedule, as any good home school curriculum should. And if you have a large family, guess what? They offer a multiple student discount for families with four or more kids so you don’t go broke on math curriculum. Score!

Teaching Textbooks has really taken a lot off my plate. Not just the to do list item of correcting their math lessons, but the guilt and worry, too. I know they are getting their math done, it’s easy to go in and check their progress and see what lesson they are working on, and they have more control over their learning. Everybody wins.

GREAT NEWS! You can get a FREE TRIAL of Teaching Textbooks 3.0 to see if it’s a good fit for your family.  Better news? When you sign up for the free trial, you can also enter to win a full year subscription! Plus, you can get more entires in my rafflecopter drawing by following Teaching Textbooks and The Places We Learn on social media. Do as many or as few as you want, each option has a listed number of entries you will get in the drawing. Must be 18 to enter. Contest will end Friday, August 4, 2018.

Free Trial and a Giveaway!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!!!!

***Disclosure: Teaching Textbooks has provided me with a year subscription to their curriculum for writing this review. However, we were already using and LOVING Teaching Textbooks before they contacted me about writing a review.  All opinions are my own.***



Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume II: Jurassic Week

I feel like the title of this blog post is misleading because we didn’t actual integrate any schoolwork into our week. We took a brain break. But this is still a week in our lives so I’m keeping it under that blog series. 🙂

It’s summer.  I was really looking forward to this summer. But so far? I’m hating it. Everyone is scattered. Every week someone is at some camp somewhere. We are never all home. I hate it. I absolutely, positively hate it. This is the worst summer ever. This growing up stuff? It stinks.

I’ve tried to fill my time with my own growth–learning to blog, learning a new job that is way outside my comfort zone, etc. But the reality is I just want my kids at home and life to be normal. It’s only June and I am longing for the school year. And I usually love summer, so this is a weird thing for me, to wish it away. Continue reading “Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume II: Jurassic Week”

Why We Home School All Summer Long

Summer vacation at the beach.


Ah, summer. Beautiful weather, long days at the pool (or the beach if you’re lucky!), and long sunny days filled with relaxation and restoration after a long school year. Well, it is for about five minutes, until the kids either start whining that they are bored or start fighting. Then what? I understand why some people completely take the summer off. They just need the break to unwind and step back from it all. I get that. Completely. We’ve even had a few summers when we had to do that. But personally, typically we home school straight through the summer for several reasons. I’ve worked really hard to create a learning environment in our home and prefer to keep it alive. I have found that a little bit of schoolwork in the morning fosters creativity all day. And finally, it’s a chance to study things that don’t fit into our school year curriculum.

Continue reading “Why We Home School All Summer Long”

Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume I

I decided I should start a blog series on what life really looks like in our house over the course of a week. I certainly will not be doing this EVERY week but I want to at least do it once a month. If my promise on this site is to show how Classical Education is still a relevant model of education that can absolutely THRIVE in the modern world, I figure I should share what it looks like in our daily lives and what our daily lives look like. So here it is, Volume I of Classical Education Meets the Real World!

We actually managed to sit down and do morning basket time together on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday last week. That is the bulk of our schooling for the summer (and yes, we are already on summer break, but we never stop doing school around here, we just lighten the load when it’s nice out). The big kids also have a goal for finishing their current math books this summer, so they typically do two math lessons a day.

Art Appreciation During Morning Basket Time. Don’t they look thrilled?!?

Continue reading “Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume I”