Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Travel, sort of

In 15 years of marriage, we've house-hunted three separate times.  Our last house-hunting expedition took place without the help of a realtor, because I discovered something about myself after the first two rounds: I have a hard time giving criticism.
My children will tell you different, and probably my husband as well.  The funny thing is, when it comes down to a house, the realtor WANTS to know your criticisms about the house, so they can do a better job in finding what you want.  I'm just very bad at doing that.  I feel like I'm going to hurt the realtor's feelings, or worse, get talked out of feeling that way.
All that to explain why I've been hesitating on this review, even though the material has been in my hands for a month and was put into use only a couple days after I downloaded it.  I realize that the point of reviewing curriculum is to help others avoid the material that may not be the best for them, to help the publishers address flaws, and to help steer users toward the best materials for their homeschool.  Even so, I found it extraordinarily difficult to write down my thoughts and experiences without reverting to my old house-hunting faithful, "It's okay."  I've had to push myself out of that "appeasement" comfort zone and into doing the work I've agreed to do in honestly reviewing the material I am sent.  So here goes...

The Material: The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner June 2010 Module: Travel the World  This was provided to me at no charge through the TOS Homeschool Crew program, in exchange for this review.
Travel the World is an e-book that retails for $7.95 at The Old Schoolhouse's website store  It is part of a larger series contained in the Schoolhouse Planners

At first glance, Travel the World confused me.  The front page clearly said "Schoolhouse Planner" but the rest of the e-book was just a geography lesson(s) and activities.  I jumped back to TOS website to track down the full planner, and found through the sample downloads that the full planners include homeschool forms, calendars, recipes, articles, lists, resources, links, activity ideas and more.  But the module I was sent was clearly just the geography lesson.  That was my first criticism: the TITLE of the material did not match the SUBSTANCE.  After looking through the website, I did find this:
What is a module?
module is an add-on for The Schoolhouse Planner, the amazing planner brought to you by The Old Schoolhouse®. This module includes a study guide, activity pages, quizzes, coloring pages, copywork, lapbooking, and more!

You do not have to have The Schoolhouse Planner to use the modules. Each module is designed to be its own stand-alone unit study. You can choose to purchase the modules by themselves or bundle them with The Schoolhouse Planner.
That didn't help me a whole lot - I was still confused as to why the MODULE said PLANNER and why these things were related, but not together...  It just did not (does not) make sense to me.  But I can be dense sometimes, so I told myself to get past that, though, and jumped into the geography lesson with all four of my children.  For my younger children (ages almost-5 and almost-7; we've got 3 birthdays right around the corner), the material presented was brand new to them.  For my older kids (ages almost-11 and 13), the material was mostly review.  
Travel the World presents the basics of geography (what is geography? globes and maps, oceans and continents) over the course of eight pages.  There is a plethora of links, including several very fun games that help kids locate the parts of the world correctly.  Okay, let's face it: the games also helped mom located parts of the world correctly.  However, with the links, came the frustration I faced when reviewing Expedition: Australia - EVERY time I clicked a link, a warning popped up "The document is trying to connect to {url}  If you trust the site, choose Allow.  If you do not trust the site, choose Block."  And while I could remember my action for that particular site, there was no shortcut to allow all the links in the PDF to just open automatically.  Criticism Two! and given that it wasn't limited to only this PDF, I truly hope that it won't continue in the rest of the e-books I'll have to review throughout the year.  An extra click every now and then is fine; an extra click 50+ times in one document is overwhelming and frustrating!
The material itself is very sparse, just the bare-bones basics of geography.  It's a good beginning or overview for children not familiar with the subject.  It's a good review for those who already have some geography knowledge.  The links provide further study on numerous topics.

Following the source material is 28 pages of work-sheets, crosswords and word-finds, lap-booking materials,  coloring pages and handwriting exercises.  Again, very basic, but good reinforcement of what the child has just learned.  The lap-booking materials provided are just a start of what could be lap-booked with this study.  We chose to skip the lap-booking exercise this time around; I barely got my feet wet when we did the lap-booking activities in Expedition: Australia and I didn't feel confident enough to come up with my own activities for this one.

I'm not sure how to do this gently, so I'll cut straight to the point.  I wasn't impressed with the geography study.  The material was sparse, and seemed to manage to be both too juvenile for my big kids, and too mature for my little ones.  Even the high school expansion supplement at the end, which included a harder word search and a couple of recipes, did not seem to be any more in-depth than the main lessons.  Many of the challenges suggested in the high school expansion were more writing-intensive than geography-intensive.  I realize that many subjects have a writing component to them, but even my 13-year-old correctly identified the assignments as "geography-themed English."  Criticism three: light on actual geography.

Final criticism: the language in the lesson itself jumped back and forth between sounding like a read-out-loud lesson and a do-it-yourself lesson.  For instance, this excerpt from the section on globes:
"Do you have a globe at home? If so, have it with you as we discuss what
we see on a globe. If you don’t have one with you, use this picture on the right."
This part to me sounds like something the child would best understand if he read it to himself.
Okay, what is the first thing you notice about a globe? You’re right—it’s round.
Whereas this part seems much more like something that should be read out loud - essentially a script for the teacher.  On the same token, if the child is reading along, they have no incentive to guess the answers because many times the question is asked and answered in the following sentence.

To sum this up, the module is good for a light summer course on geography.  The links are very helpful and many of them have been added to our computers for daily geography practice.  For what it's worth, after looking through the sample pages provided for the 2010 Schoolhouse Planner, I am impressed with the full planner and feel that it is probably worth the investment, especially if it has more lessons like these to use as a jumping-off point for further study. Overall, though, I feel that I could have invested the same amount of time and effort in Google and come up with a more in-depth study with the same amount of handy links for future reference.
You can find more reviews of this product on the Homeschool Crew Blog


  1. Good job! I think you covered all the aspects well. :-)

  2. Enjoyed reading your review~ I am from the Crew and have added myself to your followers. :)

  3. Hello from a fellow TOS crew member. I’m spending a little time checking out some of the the other reviews. I enjoyed yours. Honesty is good. I'm also following you now.