Make Your Homeschool Graduation Really Special

One of the things I’ve loved about being a part of a homeschool support group is that my kids have had opportunities to take part in regular school experiences like competitive sports teams, proms, groups classes, yearbooks, clubs, and graduations.  Last year our third child, Jacob, graduated, and it was our first experience with a homeschool graduation ceremony.  I was so impressed at how lovely and meaningful it was!  All of the graduating seniors were decked out in cap, gown, and tassels, and received diplomas, and I loved that it was in no way a second-rate experience for them!

With three remaining high schoolers to graduate from our homeschool, I was delighted when Homeschool Diploma wanted to send me some of their products to review!  I noticed during our senior year, many parents in our group did not know where or how to find graduation supplies for their homeschooled senior, and I ended up kind of cobbling together items helter-skelter, so I know this is a common need.  Being able to see the large assortment of options, and experience the quality of the products available at Homeschool Diploma has been impressive, and I am so excited to share about this with you!

Homeschool Diploma offers all the supplies and products you need for your seniors, from the actual diplomas and diploma covers, to caps and gowns, announcements and Thank You cards, gifts, and even class rings!  If you’ll have a graduate within the next four years, you will definitely want to get in on this.

The first item I got to check out was a beautiful customized diploma.  Since I don’t have a graduating senior this year, I made one up for a friend of ours, and it really turned out lovely.  You can choose from really nice standard, simple diplomas for as little as $29.99, or choose from many different options to create a more personalized keepsake that reflects your homeschool and student.

The one we got has the graduate’s name and school name on the front cover, a beautiful engraved seal, a Bible verse, and a diploma cover tassel.

It’s wonderful quality and I love how it offers parents the opportunity to convey their joy and accomplishment in graduating their child in ways that reflect their own style and personality.

In addition to the diploma, we also opted to get an extra, archive copy of the diploma.  This is great so that your graduate can take their actual diploma with them, but mom and dad can keep a spare copy for their records in case it’s ever needed.  It’s high-quality and enclosed in a clear, archive envelope to protect it.

We were also able to get a cap, gown, and tassel set, which is a must-have for any graduation ceremony.  Homeschool Diploma offers two fabric types (matte or shiny) and a wide variety of colors.  Gowns are sized by height, so it’s quick and easy to choose one that’s right for you.  Plus sizes are also available.  I was really pleased to see that the quality of the gown is quite nice.  The fabric has a soft, comfortable feel and a nice weight and drape, and the zipper works smoothly and feels like it is good quality.  The cap is also well-made and sturdy.

I especially liked the charm on the tassel, which is a good weight and definitely feels like a quality keepsake, and not some cheaply made trinket.  Certainly you could save and reuse these caps and gowns for future graduates in your family.

The final item I was able to check out was the personalized notecards.  We opted for a navy blue card with Matthew’s name in gold on the front.  The paper used for these notecards is a nice weight and quality.  These cards are perfect for post-graduation thank you notes, as well as an ongoing stash of personalized stationery as your student goes on to further education,  job interviews, and so on.  Since the cards are completely navy blue, you will want to get a white gel roll pen to use with them, and thoughtfully, Homeschool Diploma offers one for a nominal fee.

All-in-all, my impression of everything that I got to experience from Homeschool Diploma was care and quality.  Each item is something I would be so pleased to use with my own graduates, knowing that every item is well-made and high-quality and reflective of our excitement at having reached this milestone with our child!



The Good and the Beautiful: Creative Writing Notebook and Nature Notebook Review

Any Christian homeschoolers that spend time on social media have surely heard of The Good and the Beautiful by now. This relative newcomer to the homeschool curriculum scene has been quickly accepted as a favorite by many, and is known for their integration of fine arts into their materials, which I know is a special interest for Enrichment Studies readers, so I’m always eager to check out their materials and see what might be of interest to my peeps.  When The Good and the Beautiful asked me to review their Creative Writing Notebook and their Nature Notebook, it was an easy yes from me!  They have generously sponsored this review.

 

 

 

Creative Writing Notebook

The beautiful Creative Writing notebook does a terrific job of leading children through various aspects of creative writing in a way that is engaging and interesting. Designed for students in grades 4-12, my own high schoolers have been using this on all the days when I didn’t have something else planned for their writing. Even without my involvement, my students can easily move forward onto the next writing activity and they have enjoyed it.

This 89-page spiral notebook includes five sections:

  • Descriptive Writing Practice
  • Writing Exercises
  • Story Starters
  • Poetry
  • Full Stories

I like how simply and effectively the student is guided on how to develop and improve their writing. The subtlety of it makes it feel less like school work, and more like a guided writing journal, which I think is wonderful for so many kids. I have reluctant writers and dyslexic kids, so this is an area we have struggled in. I’m happy to say that with the Creative Writing Notebook, I’ve seen each of my remaining high schoolers improve in their writing skills AND enjoy it! Pretty awesome!

Enrichment Studies families and others that value the integration of the arts into other subjects will appreciate that writing poetry and the process to get you there is included in this book. There are also several works of art included in this book that are used as jumping off points for observation, description, writing poems, and other aspects of writing development.

This is one of my favorite things that we’ve been using this school year, and I feel you really can’t go wrong with it for any child that is ready and able to do some writing. The fact that it’s presented so simply and in a non-intimidating way is a plus, and it doesn’t run on a lot of Mom Power, which I know we can all appreciate. It’s very affordable, at just $14.99, and will work with all learning styles.

One final note: The Good and the Beautiful is a non-denominational Christian program, but I found that the Creative Writing Notebook does not add in religious or spiritual messages. With the possible exception of the first page, it stays focused on writing skills alone, which makes this a great option for all families, including those that prefer to share spiritual beliefs with their children on their own, rather than with educational materials. As always, The Good and the Beautiful materials are wholesome with no objectionable or inappropriate content. It is well-done and stays on topic in an appropriate and professional way.

Nature Notebook

Nature Study is a popular buzzword in homeschool communities, and Charlotte Mason circles in particular. Whether you are already spending time in nature study, or if (like me) you kind of don’t understand where to start or what to do, you will love the Nature Notebook from The Good and the Beautiful.

This 117-page spiral bound nature notebook makes it fun and easy to get into nature study!  Sections are divided by the four seasons (plus one Any Time section) and there are clear activities suggested for you to do, such as leaf collection or drawing, scavenger hunts done on a nature walk, description prompts (seamlessly pulling writing skills into the process), drawing and observation prompts, tie-ins with poetry and illustration, collection ideas (Seeds, rocks, flowers, leaves, etc.), and much more.

True Confession:  I have always loved the idea of getting the kids out in nature, but honestly never understood what purposeful thing we were supposed to “do” aside from just take a walk and see things that we might talk about, etc.  Having these suggested activities is a terrific way to get started and get over that hump of not really knowing what to do. The fact that you can jump around from one activity prompt to another is handy for families since it flexes with your needs and wishes.  You can easily let the children pick what they’d like to do for your outing, and there is plenty that the kids can do as self-led nature study right in your own back yard!  I also appreciate that there are plenty of things in the Nature Notebook that you can do indoors.  Whether you have weather or personal needs that keep you inside, you can definitely keep going and let nature study be a part of your everyday school life.

Any age child can use this notebook, and you could use a fresh Nature Notebook year after year, since the observations you make and collections you form, etc. will be fresh and different.  I also appreciate that you don’t have to finish this in one year.  If you aren’t avid nature walkers, if you’re having a baby and not able to get out much this year, or simply had nature study fall of your radar for awhile, each child can still enjoy and treasure their Nature Notebook over several years and get so much out of it!

One aspect of the Nature Notebook that I found myself questioning was that there are some nature “scrapbooking” type activities suggestions that I am not sure how they would practically work.  For example, gluing leaves onto pages seem like they would make it hard for the book to close, the leaves would eventually dry and get crushed and make a mess, etc.  The bark rubbing activity seems like it has great potential to get the book pages ripped and would be awkward to accomplish with the page still attached to the book.  I love the inclusion of these activities, but I think I would copy those particular pages on my home scanner/printer and provide a fresh stand-alone page for the kids to do those activities on instead.  A 9×12 plastic storage box might be a perfect spot to store your Nature Notebook, plus all collections, nature treasures, and three-dimensional projects where they are more protected and can be enjoyed again and again.

Like the Creative Writing Notebook, the Nature Notebook doesn’t directly include any religious elements, so this is an item that will work for all families and all ages.  The Nature Notebook sells for just $12.

Get The Good and the Beautiful annual reading list for FREE!

Each year The Good and the Beautiful publishes a popular reading list, and subscribers to their newsletter can get it for FREE!  They also sometimes give away freebies, so this is a great way to make sure you don’t miss a thing. You can subscribe on their home page by clicking here. 

You can read my other review of The Good and the Beautiful here:



Illumenedge18 Helps your Older Teens “Adult” Successfully

As a mother of six children, three of whom are 18 or older, I know very well the joys and concerns that go along with shepherding our children into their adult years! As a fallible parent limited by my own experiences and perspectives in life, I know that it can be difficult to know or think of everything that my children need to know to safely and responsibly navigate the adult world.  That’s why I’m so glad that I found out about this cool new opportunity for my young adults:  Illumenedge18.

Created by an attorney with a background in social services who saw many young adults facing difficult consequences due to ignorance or irresponsible behaviors, this site is designed to quickly, carefully, and thoroughly educate a young adult on their rights and responsibilities in the adult world. 

I was pleased to be able to check out this site and utilize it with my children that are 16, 18, 20, and 24 years old.  The courses included at Illumenedge18 are:

  • Personal Relationships & the Law
  • Driving Laws Every Young Driver Must Know
  • Tenants, Landlords, and Leases
  • Cash, Loans, Debts, and Promises
  • Safe Surfing
  • Collateral Damage:  Consequences When You Damage Your Legal Reputation
  • Crime…and its Aftermath
  • Work and Paying Taxes
  • License, Insurance, and Registration Please

Each course is easy to navigate and work through, with short sections to read, explaining the topic in a clear, personable way that anybody would be able to understand.  Even for those that do not like to read on screens, the amount of text is short enough and formatted in such a way to make it easy and pleasant.

Some of the courses can be worked through in as little as 20 minutes, some up to about 45 minutes.  After going through all of the topic information, there is a quiz at the end of each course, so you can see how well you understood the information.

I noticed that amidst the general information there is quite a bit of Tennessee-specific information as well.  I asked the owner for more information about this, and she said that the site currently does feature TN-specifics since she is a Tennessee resident and has particular knowledge of those laws.  As she sees the interest in this site grow, she will be seeking to expand into a more comprehensive site.  Although I was puzzled about the Tennessee specifics originally, I still felt that the general information was valuable and useful to use even though we live in a different state.

Just to give you an idea of the Tennessee content, for instance when discussing laws about getting married, it refers to the age for that state for getting married with and without parental consent.  In the section about jobs, it refers to specific laws for TN. So of course if you live somewhere else you’d want to refer to the specifics for your location, but you’ll still have the general idea about the laws that are common within the United States.

My teens and young adults enjoyed the courses and felt that it was an easy site to navigate, and that the information was presented in a way that was helpful and informative.  They also mentioned that it felt good to see all of this information in one place, where they could learn about things that they may not have ever thought about before, and to help them know how to think and prepare for upcoming opportunities and decisions (like living on their own).

One thing I felt good about was the range of course topics.  I’m sure most parents hope (and expect!) that their children are not going to grow up and have issues with crime, dangerous driving, problematic relationships, or unscrupulous employers or coworkers.  Unfortunately, everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes things happen that surprise, shock, or disappoint us.  We may never think to explain to our children some of these topics, but they or their friends may truly benefit from understanding these legal responsibilities and consequences that they could be facing for foolish behavior.  This site has done the legwork to tell our young adult children what they need to know, and removed the burden from parents to have to think of each and every one of these topics.  I think that’s a very valuable service.

Illumenedge18 has a very easy structure to work with.  You pay one flat fee of $40 for unlimited access to all the courses for your whole family for a month.  If you have ever had the misfortune of having to pay legal fees, court costs, increased insurance rates due to poor driving habits, or had to hire a lawyer, you know that this is a huge bargain.  I would absolutely recommend this to all parents with students that are 17+ years of age, and would require them to work through all the courses.  A motivated student could get it all done easily in a week, or you could spread it out a full month if you wanted to.

 

This review was underwritten by Illumenedge18.  All opinions are those of myself and my family members that utilized the courses.



Product Review: Torch Wifi Router for Families

I think most parents today realize that, while awesome and helpful and fun in so many ways, the internet also has inherent dangers that we need to be careful of. And don’t even get me started on all the issues with screen time and sensible limits!

In our family, we’ve used an internet safety filter on our computers for probably at least 10 years or more, and while it has been a comfort to have it, it’s not been all that I needed it to be. Every time my kids get a new kindle, phone, or game system, I go through the dance of trying to set up parental controls, and hoping that I’m doing it right, but never really feeling sure that I’ve covered all the bases to keep them safe. And THEN, what about when their friends come over and brings their phones or devices with them? I don’t know what’s safe or not safe on those items at all. Eesh. It’s a lot of responsibility, and even if you trust your kids, you definitely can’t trust that nothing bad will pop up in front of your kids and lead them on a path that you don’t want them on.

Recently I found out that the service we’ve been using is going out of business, so I knew we needed something else for our basic coverage on our computers. Thankfully, I found out about Torch, and it’s a solution to most of my additional concerns about the other devices as well.

Torch Wifi Router and internet filterTorch is a wifi router that has internet filtering built right into it.  Basically, it works to filter content before it comes into your home.  Every device that’s connected to it will be able to be made safe for your family, according to your specifications.  As a person who really, really hates setting up new technology, Torch is fairly painless.  They say it should take about 5 minutes.  For me it was a little longer because I didn’t realize that our setup with a combo router/modem required a different approach than it will for folks that are just replacing a router.  Once I understood that, it was fairly straightforward to get it going.

Parents can login to the Parental Dashboard to set up users and devices, set bedtimes or other time limits for users, and select what types of content you want filtered for your home.  You can choose categories, as well as enter specific sites that you want blocked.  There are currently over 30 categories, including adult sites/porn, various types of social media, violence, extremism, weapons, hate, gambling, and more.  You can customize this as you see fit.

The Parental Dashboard can be accessed on your computer, tablet, or phone, so even if you’re off at the store or at work, you can manage what’s going on if you need to.  The Dashboard also offers you Reporting, so you can see what your kids have been doing online.

Things I liked about it the most:

One thing that I really appreciate about Torch is that it is a tool that helps me control when devices are available.  We’ve tried various methods over the years for handling this issue, but overall none have been entirely successful.  (Yes, if my kids were perfect, that would have helped, but alas, they are normal kids….)  Torch allows me to set my time frame solution once, and forget it. It’s done.  So if I want the kindles and game systems to stop being available for my teens at 10pm on school nights, that’s how it goes down even if I’m not there to enforce it.  Boom.  The end.  Parent power!

And if we’re having a hard time getting people to focus on chores or some other task because of all the bright and shiny things vying for their attention on their devices?  I can easily hit Pause for the whole house, and amazingly, chores can get done at lightning speed!  It’s amazing how motivating the lack of internet access can be.  lol

As a family that uses out laptops for school time, I wanted a solution that lets the computers be on, but the rest of the devices off.  All I had to do was create a user for School and attach the laptops to that, and give it the parameters I wanted, and then each kid can have their personal devices set for other parameters.  For instance, if I don’t want any gaming or kindle access til after school, and stopped before bedtime, that’s easy to set up too.

 

What it won’t do:

  • While I think Torch is a great help for keeping my family safer, it isn’t a replacement for actual parental oversight and awareness.
  • If someone turns their phone from wifi to 4G, Torch is no longer working for them.  Internal parental controls on all devices are still important and you need to learn how to use them.  For my kids, all devices other than computers have parental controls with browsers turned off, app store turned off, and limits on types of music, TV, and movies that can be watched.  All that still needs to be there, because most of their devices are portable and aren’t always home, having their content filtered by Torch.
  • If you, like us, have a combo router/modem, your Torch is going to connect to that, instead of replacing it.  That means that you’ll have to change the password on your old wifi network, therefore forcing everybody to link up with Torch for their wifi instead.  If they can still use the old wifi, they can bypass Torch, and that’s not what you want.

 

Product review: Torch router and internet filterSpecs and Details:

Torch covers up to 4000  square feet and offers 1 gig per second connection speed

It’s attractive!  You won’t hate seeing this on your desk.

Torch will help you

  • Pause the internet
  • Set bedtimes
  • Customize for each child
  • Block bad content including adult content
  • See reporting and insights to know what your kids are doing online

Torch is available for a one time purchase of the wifi router, and then a monthly fee of $9.99.  The purpose of the monthly fee is to support the continuous need for indexing new sites as they come up, and keeping ahead of all the new ways that bad guys have to try to mess with your family through the web.  Having seen my own longtime filtering service go out of business, I can see that it is essential for a business like this to have the proper financial setup to be able to keep doing their job of  keeping our families safe.  That being said, you are not locked into any time commitments for the monthly fee.  If you ever choose to stop paying that, you’ll still have the working router and the ability to manually block websites through the Parental Dashboard.

Click here to visit the Torch website.

This review has been underwritten by the kind folks at Torch.



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