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As I have shared in the past, our family has a love affair with books. The boys could read all day long if permitted (or in the case of my youngest son he’d love to be read to for hours!) However, just reading a book does not help a person foster critical thinking. Rather, you need a good curriculum even when covering literature for elementary grades.
Progeny Press is a company we were already familiar with from the older boys reviewing other selections in the past. Back in 2012, we shared about The Cay (middle school) and Pride and Prejudice (high school). And, then in 2013, the boys looked at Beowulf (high school) and The Eagle of the Ninth (middle school.)
This time it was my youngest son, who has just finished his kindergarten year, that had a chance to put a Progeny Press study guide to the test.
We decided to visit the Middle Ages with The Minstrel in the Tower. This is a short chapter book from Stepping Stones in their history genre. At only 64 pages broken up into 8 chapters, it is quite manageable for many students in 2nd or 3rd grade to read independently. As J is still a beginning reader, we found that he needed to have the story read to him. That didn’t stop him from trying to read parts of it to himself afterwards.
The story finds a young girl named Alice on journey she’ll never forget. Her brother, Roger, is her companion on this adventure with the goal of finding their mother’s brother Raimond (who they’d never heard about until their mother is ill in bed and asks that they find him.) Armed with vague instructions and a lute bearing an eagle carved on its back, they head off Bordeaux, a three day trip.
It isn’t long before trouble strikes as the siblings are kidnapped and sequestered into an ancient hidden tower. That’s when they discover how important their Uncle Raimond is and that Alice must be courageous by leaving Roger behind to find Raimond and seek his assistance.
For kids who love to get lost in a good book, the use of the study guide will force them to read in shorter intervals (a chapter at a time) and with more of their brain engaged to pick up details and make inferences. If you have a child who can’t help but keep reading beyond the initial stopping point, then you might find them needing to re-read the previous chapter to remember details. The elementary grade selections are a lot easier to do this with than the upper levels my other boys used.
What we received for review was the ebook version of the study guide. The elementary level guides do not offer the same ability to type in responses on the pdf file like the upper grades. As my son is still learning to write, we did not print off the pages for him to fill out. Rather, I used the computer to read questions with him sitting alongside. Answers were done orally by him. If he had been in 2nd or 3rd grade when working on this study, I would have printed the pages out for him to write his responses.
The study guide for Minstrel in the Tower contains activities for both before and after the actual reading of the story. The few suggested activities for before reading the novel are enough to keep you busy for a week. (I’m not sure which was more appreciated: reading Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie dePaola (who I adore) or having an excuse to pop Disney’s Robin Hood from 1952 into the player. Activities for after the story could easily use another week or more depending on how many you decided to do. Plus, the guide offers a suggested reading list of books that continue the theme as well as other titles by the same author.
Each chapter has its own section in the guide with an eye towards building reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. A dictionary at the ready is something you’ll want to have when walking through the work with your child. While any dictionary can work, I found that a children’s dictionary was sufficient and more manageable than a full blown one. The first activities in Chapter 1 have your child stating what they think a word means (as read in a sentence from the story) and then looking up the actual definition. While subsequent chapters have a vocabulary component, they do not all require use of a dictionary to complete it.
Beyond basic comprehension, Progeny Press also takes time to have the students contemplate more eternal matters with inclusion of Scripture reading and then application of the passage to the story. For anyone wanting to instill a Christian worldview for their child, this is an important part of the study guides which also sets the company apart.
Given that J is at the young end of the intended grade range, we took longer to walk through the material than I originally planned. Reading the story was not the stumbling block. Rather, it is getting used to thinking about a story to remember important details more easily that is a skill which needed more attention. While it can be frustrating for me as the homeschool parent to move through material at a slower pace, I know that the training done now will benefit us both in the future.
What are some ways you’ve done literature studies with younger kids?
Does Progeny Press’ studies appeal to you?
Don’t just take my word for how we found this to be. Visit the Progeny Press Review post on the Schoolhouse Review Crew website to see what other homeschooling parents thought about this title and other grade level ones.