And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13 KJV

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jammin at Home

I first heard of Winter Jam several years ago. The tour's nearest stop is usually about an hour or so from where we live. The last two years I've considered going because I know Apple in particular would really enjoy it. We haven't made it yet but I did recently receive a DVD titled This is Winter Jam to review for Family Christian.

I expected this to be a recording of part of one of the concerts with maybe some bonus features that gave more information on the concert. This is so much more! It is an hour and a half movie about Winter Jam. It features members of many well known Christian bands telling their experiences with Winter Jam. It also gives behind the scenes information from the crew and even the tour pastor. We learned how the bands come together for worship during the tour and got a history review about the whole thing and how it began.

And there was music! Lots of music and footage from actual concerts from names you'll recognize like King and Country, Francesca Battistelli, and Building 429. I was really impressed with this DVD and totally enjoyed watching it. Of course Apple did too!

Now we REALLY REALLY want to go to Winter Jam! You can find your own copy of This is Winter Jam at

Monday, June 27, 2016

Learning History in a Fun Story #colonialamerica

If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America is by Carole P. Roman, and we recently received it for review. This paperback book contains more than 50 pages. It is illustrated by Sarah Wright. The book tells a story from the perspective of someone born in London in 1620. The story tells common names of the time and discusses the journey to the colonies. It gives detailed information about the historical time period in a way that kids can understand and maybe even relate to! Apple & Speedy both enjoyed this book as well as another in this series that was sent to us.

While this glossy paged book will appeal to younger children, I think older kids will like the story and pick up on the historical facts in it. There is a list of important people in the back along with a glossary of terms. This book is a great addition to our homeschool shelves and would be especially significant when studying early American history.

The combination of fun facts along with serious concerns during from the time period (lack of food, illnesses) makes this a learning book rather than just a story. This was our first experience with the If You Were Me and Lived In...series and we look forward to enjoying more in the future!

This book can be purchased on Amazon.

Homeschool Teacher's Summer

The kids are currently on a summer school schedule. They are working on review items and continuing a few items they really enjoy that will be on their schedules in the fall. Most days have been relatively easy for them, and it's working well so far. Every summer looks different for us. In the past we've completely taken off some summers, worked a full school schedule through some summers, and sometimes we do what we are doing this year.

Typically while they school in the summer, I work on their full fall and spring schedule. If you've been around the blog lately you'll notice I've recently reviewed two homeschool planning tools. I've been busy putting them both to work as I adjust everything for 4th and 7th grade. Prior to joining the Crew, we usually used the same or very similar curricula, and I had quite an easy system for planning it all out. This year as I started to choose their subjects for 2016-2017, I realized I had an abundance of resources already available!

I decided right away that I would take advantage of using as much as I could that we already owned. Not only do my many bookshelves groan under the weight of books and textbooks, but I found my computer FULL of downloads that I've purchased or won over the years. We also have access to several online sources that we don't always utilize to their full extent. So I set about deciding what we could use and what we would really need to buy.

I'm happy to say I've only made a few purchases. The bulk of our homeschool budget for this year will go to ink! Speedy is able to use several books and resources that Apple used for the same grade level. Apple will be taking 2 classes outside the home this fall and the resources for those classes will be covered in her fees. It's taking me quite a bit longer to put it all together this time (by this point I'm usually finished!), but it is taking shape.

Both kids needed some change in their organization methods. Earlier this year we adjusted one from a drawer system to a basket. It has worked well but will be getting tweaked even more. The other student is finally willing to let go of their drawers (I think) and will be using a spiral notebook and binder for each subject. That works particularly well for those that we are printing and using.

Every few years I get the urge to change their seating. Every time I think it will be the last time. You think I'd know better by now! Apple began at the dining room table then moved to a small table. When Speedy joined the "class" they both got little desks and chairs. Soon they outgrew those, and the grandparents found them larger school type desks and chairs. While those still fit them, they aren't perfect for our schoolroom, and they don't offer much storage space. Now I'm dreaming of putting two larger student desks with drawers in the room.

Just like all of life, our homeschool is constantly changing. I tend to resist change but I know that it is necessary for progress. While this summer planning time feels like a lot of work, I'm hopeful about the good it will bring about in the fall and spring. How is your summer going?

Old Testament for Upper Elementary #onlineBible

We have used some Veritas Press products in the past so Speedy was excited to receive 12 month access to their Self-Paced Bible Old Testament 1: Genesis to Joshua course. Prior to receiving this as a review item, both kids tried a free trial of the new option and both enjoyed it. Speedy was happy to be selected to review the full self- paced course for us. I picked him to do the course because he hasn't had as much Bible study as his sister, and I felt like he would benefit more from it.

This is our first experience with a Veritas Self-Paced course. I received a parent login and password, and Speedy received his own account. This course breaks down the events that occur in the Old Testament from the very beginning to Joshua. The lessons are broken into 32 events that are studied through 128 lessons. Each event has 3 days of lessons and then a test. This fits perfectly into our 4 day per week routine. Speedy would start a new event on Monday and do the test on Thursday. 

Each lesson includes a mix of videos and activities to cover the highlighted Bible event. The videos are short and humorous but pack in a lot of information. Speedy has done well with this program, but he has scored all over the scale. His average is a B right now which is perfectly acceptable. He either seems to do really well on the activities and tests or very poorly. It isn't a steady grade that he is receiving. 

Speedy says:
"I like that the characters in the videos are dressed up. Asher is my favorite. I like some of the games I get to play on there. It seems like my lessons are getting longer as I go."

I love that this course is Self-Paced. He logs in alone. He goes through his lesson alone. The website is laid out in a very student friendly manner. Everything is graded instantly. The longer we go on our homeschool journey, the more I have come to appreciate programs like this. I work from home and have 2 students simultaneously doing school each day. Any program that takes all or most of the pressure off of me is a win! Of course that only works if the student is enjoying the program. Speedy likes this Old Testament 1 course, and he often does it without being prompted or asked. He enjoys seeing his own grades and upcoming lessons without needing to ask me for the information. Apple liked the free trial and would have been happy to have done a full course of this herself. 

There are a variety of games that pop up throughout the lessons. He recently enjoyed one where he was able to "plant" seeds and buy supplies. He earned gold coins by answering questions correctly. This type of game has kept him involved and interested in the lessons.

I think this course would appeal to upper elementary to middle school students. Veritas Press actually lists this course as a recommendation for 2nd grade. I'm not sure Speedy would have followed along with this 2 years ago. It's just right for him now though! Veritas also offers other Self-Paced Bible courses as well as some Self-Paced History courses. We've had such a success with this one that I will keep them on my list to research more in the future. As for the parent account, it was an easy way to log in and check his grades. It was just as easy to log into his account and check his scores. I think if I had more than one student doing a course, I would be utilizing the parent account more often.

See what other Crew members have to say about the Veritas Press products they tried:
Old and New Testament Online Self-Paced Bible Veritas Review
Social Media Links:
Twitter:  @VeritasPress

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A World of Books {Review}

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin is a catalog of books that can introduce your child to other places and cultures. I was so excited to receive this recently for a review item from BookLook bloggers. I'm always looking for books for my kids. Not only do we often need books to enhance our homeschool studies, but both children really have a love for reading.

It didn't take long for Apple to begin running out of age appropriate books. I'd say she had been reading less than 2 years when I started to feel the strain of finding books that challenged her but included only appropriate material. With much prayer over the years, God has sent us some amazing librarians and friends to make suggestions at just the right times. I've found that blogs, Pinterest, and other social media outlets can also be a treasure when looking for new books for Apple and Speedy. When I begin to read about this new book from Jamie C. Martin, I found myself intrigued.

The author was a world traveler before having children. She does still enjoy taking her family on trips, but she has found that motherhood has a way of keeping us closer to home. She wanted to give her children a view of our world and people so she began compiling a list of books. Thus this book emerged. It includes lists broken into geographical areas and then split by age range. The book is well written and well organized. It's a book that I want to doggy ear and highlight in and write on as I use the list for my family. She poses the question, "How do you give your children the world in your home?" and includes answers from people all over the world. I loved reading these but kept expecting them to be in natural breaks among the list. Instead they are randomly scattered.

I was excited to see some books on the lists that my kids have already read or even have on their bookshelves. I was even happier to see many books and authors that we aren't familiar with. I feel like I have a book to keep in our library bag to help us find new books and exciting places to explore. The organization of this book also makes it perfect for homeschool moms. It will be so easy to enhance unit studies or geography lessons with these books that include some fiction and some non-fiction.

What's your favorite children's/ tween book about another culture?

Online Record Keeping #homeschoolorganization offers online planning and record keeping for homeschools. I recently received an annual membership to My School Year (Homeschool Record Keeping) for review. This has been a very interesting product, and I've spent quite a bit of time on it during a free trial and the review period. This planning program is all online and has worked well for me using Google Chrome on my desktop.

I started using this program with the intent to use it as a digital planner for our summer work. This digital planner gives you the ability to set up a calendar for your school year and to include holidays and vacations. You can then set up each student and assign them a grade level and classes. After setting up their classes, there are a couple of different ways to add lessons to the classes. You can add lessons one at a time or do "Create-A-Plan" and either do "Quick Split" or "Rapid Repeat" lessons. I struggled in this area a bit because I do very descriptive lesson plans. I like to either give a specific worksheet or lesson such as "10C" or "Week 8, Day 1 video and worksheet" or "Read pages 6-18". I never found an easy way to set up those kind of lessons in succession. I ended up working on nearly every subject one day and lesson at a time. It was a bit time consuming. On some of the subjects, I allowed the program to just assign lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, etc to speed up the process. I did appreciate that it was easy to share lessons between the students. In some classes, Apple and Speedy work together on lessons or they do the same lessons independently. It was nice to only have to enter it once and then share it.

One reason I like to give descriptive lessons is so I can just print out a weekly plan for the kids. This program will email you daily or weekly. When I would get the weekly email, I would print it for the kids straight from my email. It will print but is a small version in order to use less paper if printing.

Even though it wasn't as easy as I wanted it to be, I was able to set up all their summer classes and start using My School Year. It serves as way more than a planner though. With this record keeping website, you can track grades, extra curricular activities, awards, and attendance! The program gives you as the teacher the ability to adjust the grading scales and to enter all the extras for your student. A nifty little Teacher's Aid is available to assist you if you are missing certain information for your students or plans.

I really like the extra curricular activities feature. I was able to input their sports and keep track of their camps for the summer too. While there isn't a feature to add those things to their schedules (that'd be nice though!), it is a great way to track all those additional classes and activities they participate in.

I have to say that my favorite aspect of My School Year is the grade tracking. This is a HUGE plus for me. This past school year I really started putting some emphasis on grades with my kids. They'd fallen into a pattern of not putting forth their best effort with their schoolwork because they knew I'd give them a chance to correct it. We are still working on overcoming that habit so we will continue to focus on grades this year. Last year I made a really simple spreadsheet to keep up with their daily grades. It was so very hard to calculate everything at the end of each semester. It wasn't organized well at all and I paid for it with several hours spent pouring over it trying to calculate final grades. It wasn't a good thing. In the Planbook, you open each lesson to mark it completed. When you do that you have the ability to assign a grade for that day's work or to complete it with no grade assigned. Hallelujah! Just what I needed. Not only that y'all. It calculates it all for you. Every day. The scores are always right there ready to access. I could cry tears of joy. I'm sure there are other programs that do that, but this is a biggie for me! It's also big for my kids because they can access their scores at anytime through my account to see where they stand.

Now that Apple is in 7th grade (GASP & sob), I have been looking ahead to requirements for high school. It can be a little overwhelming just to look over all the lists. One thing I've worried about is tracking her time for each class. My School Year will do that too! In the same screen that you can mark lessons complete and assign a grade, you can also input the number of minutes spent on the lesson. Score! This would make high school record tracking so much easier. You can even download a report card to print at any time!

While My School Year is a planning tool, for me it has worked even better as a record keeping tool. There are loads of other options to keep reading logs, print other types of reports, and add course materials. I am looking forward to utilizing this program over the next year to track our grades and print quarterly report cards for the kids. I'm also going to keep an eye on this program as we get closer to high school.

See how other members of the Crew used

Homeschool Record Keeping { Review}

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Young & Beardless

Young & Beardless: The Search for God, Purpose, and a Meaningful Life by John Luke Robertson is the latest book I received to review. Like many others, I'm familiar with the Robertson family through their show Duck Dynasty. The last news I remember hearing about the family was that John Luke had gotten married. While this seemed to shock many, my husband and I married fairly young and so it doesn't surprise me when others marry in their late teens or early twenties.

The information I received on this book said that it was recommended for ages 13 and up. I knew Apple would want the book, but I read it entirely before deciding if it was appropriate for her. This 223 page paperback is divided into 3 parts that are further split into 12 chapters. It also includes an introduction and a conclusion. This book is John Luke Robertson's own personal musings on what he has learned in his young life and how he has learned it. It is also his opportunity to talk about his goals in walking a Christian path.

I'm obviously much older than his 19 years. I wasn't sure how much of this book would be relevant for me. Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air. Everyone we encounter can teach us something from the oldest person to the youngest. I really enjoyed learning more about young Mr. Robertson. He presents this book in a neat organized manner and he spends lots of time talking about what he has learned from various books. I love to read, and I can completely relate to finding life changing books. Some of the books he mentioned I have read and others I'd like to read. It only took me a few days to complete the book and then I happily passed it on to Apple (11). She finished it even quicker than I did!

Apple says,

"I really like how many Bible verses he brought up. I like all the stories he told about when he was younger. I like that the book was divided into parts and chapters. One thing I enjoyed was him being able to laugh at himself. I thought it was great that he quoted other books and talked about them. My favorite part in the whole book was the questions he asked at the end of each chapter. I would like to read some of those books he mentioned. I think that the book is for people exactly my age. I think I will read this book several times again."

I think this is a wonderful read for middle and high schoolers. It gives then lots of real life information on finding God's path for life and on locating real life mentors. John Luke Robertson is a great example of a young adult seeking out God's will in our ever changing world. He gives handy advice like creating a "toolbox" and shares lots of Bible verses and quotes that have been significant in his own life. He also shares some of his own struggles. He doesn't try to present himself as perfect. He has obvious respect for his parents and elders, and that's the kind of example I want my kids to see!

Is there someone in your family who would enjoy reading Young and Beardless? You can enter to win a copy via the easy Giveaway Tools widget. The giveaway is for the continental USA only and will end June 29, 2016.

Online Math for Mastery #homeschoolmath

LearnBop is an online personalized math program. We received one year's access to LearnBop for Families for review. Both Apple and Speedy were set up with an account. LearnBop even gives a parent account with the Family Plan. I think that's great because some of my upper level math skills are rusty!

The purpose of LearnBop is to act as a personal math tutor online. You select where each student will begin. They are then given a roadmap to work through math skills. There are multiple roadmaps to choose from like any grade from 3rd to 8th or upper levels such as Algebra I, Algebra II, or Geometry. You can also select subject roadmaps in 10 categories like Functions and The Number System. Once their roadmap is selected, they are ready to begin.

I had Apple begin with 7th grade math. Apple is currently working through Algebra I with another curriculum, but I didn't want this to be a stressful review period for her. I figured this would be a great program to help identify any weak places in her math abilities. Apple is working at very high math levels for her age, but math tends to cause her stress and tears as she doesn't really enjoy it.

Speedy started with 4th grade math. Math comes naturally to him, and this is the level he should be working on after finishing 2 separate 3rd grade math programs last school year. I was curious how evenly LearnBop would line up with other programs we've tried. So far it seems to be right on the correct level for Speedy. I had both kids work on LearnBop 4 times per week during our review period. It has been great as an over the summer program!

LearnBop is laid out in a way that is very easy for the student to follow. They log on to their account, and LearnBop tells them what they need to do next. Each level is divided into units and each unit is divided into Building Blocks (lessons). The unit begins with a warm up to "test" the student's knowledge on the subject. Following the warm up, the student is guided to the lessons. In each lesson there are videos to watch, and then bops to complete. The videos are short and easy to follow. The bops or questions are of varying degrees of difficulty. The point is mastery so the student is not allowed to move on until the question is answered correctly. If the answer is incorrect, they will be guided back through the question with "hints" until they can get the right response. The program automatically grades the student's progress, and they aren't allowed to move to the next lesson until they obtain a high score on the bops.

I initially had both kids jump on and use this on their own. We use Google Chrome, and LearnBop has worked well on that platform. As I mentioned before, it is really set up in a user friendly way so the kids could usually tell where they needed to go next without help. Initially both kids enjoyed the format of LearnBop, and they were experiencing easy success with it. As time has gone on, both have expressed some minor frustrations with the program. There have been some confusing problems and some incorrect problems in their roadmaps. Obviously that's disheartening for a student. It can also be very tedious to go through a missed problem again and again. I understand why LearnBop is set that way. but the kids have been addled by it at times.

I set myself up in Algebra I. I scored very well in math all through school and have never struggled with it. I also worked for many years in accounting type positions before having kids. The Algebra I was way too hard for me! I consoled myself by thinking I haven't worked on Algebra (other than helping Apple in a long time). I decided to try something easier and moved down to the Statistics and Probability section. I was a bit surprised when it gave me 6th grade tasks after the warm up! I wish we'd made it to more warm-ups so I could better understand how they work in LearnBop. Since this is a mastery program, I'd like to think there's an ability to test out of units or Building Blocks or unit concepts, but I'm not positive if that was happening. While I only had a few lessons in the 6th grade level, some of them were areas that I was certain I had answered correctly on the warm up. I too have found some problems that were incorrect on the program. Thankfully there's a very easy process to submit those to LearnBop. Of course to get past it you have to do process of elimination.

There are some things I really like about LearnBop. There are achievement logos awarded for various progress on the program. Since there isn't a cumulative grade on all work, the little achievements popping up are good motivation. I prefer the mastery work concept, and it closely models what we've done in our homeschool all along. However, I think it would be good to have some way to opt out or bypass a question that is incorrect on the program. Some lessons gave me a chance to restart, and I found one problem that even gave an option to show me an answer, but it still wouldn't let me past the problem. Obviously some kids would skip every question if given the choice but surely there's a solution that would be a happy medium. If one exists already on LearnBop, I haven't discovered it yet. I also think it would be great to have a master key to the roadmaps. That way I could see how many things the kids actually tested past. I do like that the website is so clean and easy to follow. I love that I get my own account to work on my math skills. I really like the parent page that gives me the ability to easily check everyone's roadmaps and progress. It is definitely a user friendly website. I think the bones of LearnBop are great and I hope to see the LearnBop for Families program continue to improve.

Find out what other Crew members thought of LearnBop:
LearnBop for Families Review
Connect on Social Media:

Twitter: @LearnBop

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, June 20, 2016


Homeschool affords us such flexibility in our focus and studies. Lately Apple has been thinking more about the future. She's been asking questions and showing general interest in college and certain careers. I was thinking one afternoon that I wish there was a career day she could attend to learn more. Then I realized that career day in a public school doesn't always allow for the kids to learn more about the areas that they are really interested in.

I talked with a couple of moms of public schooled kids and they feel the same urge to give their middle schoolers more information on what's out there and what it takes. Even Speedy has recently proclaimed his future "occupation". Now I know my kids are still young and it's a few years before they need to really settle on a career. I feel like this is an optimum time to present them with more information on careers that may suit or interest them.

So I set about seeking the best way to give them that information. I have a short list so far that I thought would interest you.

1. Find people you know that can talk with your kids about their jobs. Or find people in specific careers that may be your child's biggest interest. I think talking with someone in a small group setting is really the best way for students to ask their questions and get a general idea of what is involved in a specific career. I haven't figured out how to make this happen for my kids but I will.

2. Some larger hospitals and companies offer job shadowing. This is a chance for older teens (usually 16-18) to actually go in to a work place to see a career in action. This is a great opportunity for real life experience but the student probably needs to already be very interested in a particular career for this to apply. Perhaps if they are trying to choose between 2 similar occupations, this would be a way to see both and make a final decision.

3. The library is our biggest and best resource for all things homeschool. The nonfiction sections in the children's and adult's areas offer loads of books on all types of jobs from farmer to chef to police officer to doctor. If your child has questions or is seeking more information on a particular area or career, help them find some books to give them a little more knowledge!

4. The other "library" we have at our fingertips now is the internet. I've spent a few hours doing searches to find information on particular areas to share with the kids when we have some "free" time. I'm still searching but I've found 2 government sites made for kids and teens with particulars about many occupations including required education and median salary.

I think I'm most surprised that there isn't more information available for kids to learn about available careers! No wonder so many students go off to college with no clear path or direction before them. How are they suppose to learn more about all the options available?

I intend to continue talking to people locally including the librarian to see if programs exist or can be started to educate students on career choices. I'm also planning to continue my internet searching and may go to social media to see what other resources are available for homeschool, private, and public schooled students.

Do you have any advice for parents wanting to educate their children on real life occupations?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

4th Grade Literature Study Guide #literaturestudies

Progeny Press graciously sent us The Sword in the Tree E-Guide for Upper Elementary grades 4-6 to review. This was Speedy's first formal literature guide, and I was interested to see how he would do. We've used Progeny Press lit guides in the past and have been very pleased with them. 
This Progeny Press study guide can be printed for use or used as an interactive download. To use it on the computer, it simply needed to be opened in Adobe Reader 9. With that option, all the fill in work can be typed directly into the guide. I did open it in Adobe and played around with it a bit, but Speedy really needs extra handwriting this summer. I printed out all the pages and put them in a folder for him to work on. Somewhere along the line he dismantled the folder and kept them out. I think that made it easier for him to write on them and to keep up with the pages he needed to do. The guide is 42 pages in all and that includes about 26 pages of "worksheets" to complete. 
What it looks like as an interactive guide on Adobe. 
Those fill in sheets are broken in 5 sections: Chapters 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-14, and a final overview. There are numerous ways to schedule this study guide. In the older level study guides, it is recommended to work through a section per week. Since this was a relatively short book and study guide and since we are doing a limited amount of work through the summer, I had Speedy work on about 2 pages per day Monday- Thursday. He completed the book and fill in portion of the guide during our review period. 

Clyde Robert Bulla was a new author for our family. The Sword in the Tree is a short 14 chapter book with 103 pages. Speedy loved every word of it! He can read very well but can be a reluctant reader at times. We weren't able to get our hands on any of the suggest pre-reading books before beginning this one, but he's done some study on knights in the past. This E-guide suggested reading the whole book before beginning the study guide, and that's what he did. Since finishing, he's put his hands on 3 more Clyde Robert Bulla books. He can't get enough of this author.

The study guide includes questions, think about the story questions, dig deeper questions, vocabulary, and optional activities. There were also questions involving literary terms like setting, theme, and simile. The overview was a final set of questions on the book. We really just needed the book, a Bible, and a dictionary for Speedy to complete this guide. The optional and post-reading activities require some other supplies but nothing too intensive. 

Speedy said, "I like how it used examples from the book to compare to Bible verses and stories." 

I was very pleased with this literature guide. I think it was right on target for 4th-6th graders. Speedy was able to answer all of the questions, and he did many of the optional activities on his own. He does still struggle with writing so some of his written answers were incomplete or contained misspelled words. He was able to give fuller answers orally which I often had him do after completing the written work. I was very pleased with his work considering this is one of the first 4th grade activities he has "officially" worked on. It did highlight some of his writing struggles but that's an area we are already giving more attention to this summer. Even with the difficulty level, he never complained. He liked the book so much that he was happy to complete the study guide. I love that the guide included Biblical references and questions. I'm always happy to incorporate Biblical themes in all subjects. I think the variety of pre- and post- reading activities gives this guide a versatile aspect that will make it work for many families.

I have been very impressed with all the Progeny Press resources we have used to date. Last year Apple used a Progeny Press E-Guide for Tuck Everlasting for a review. It was geared towards 5th-8th graders so it was nice to compare the length and questions in the various levels. Members of the Crew received E-Guides for various books and ages. Make sure you read some of their reviews too:
Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press  Review}

Connect on Social Media:

    Twitter:  @progenypress

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, June 13, 2016

Family Amusement in the Mountains

I believe my last trip to an amusement park was to Opryland. If you're from Tennessee, you know it's been awhile since Opryland was torn down and replaced by a mall. When we decided to go to Dollywood on our recent trip to the mountains, I didn't do much research or planning. My parents have been a few times, and I knew it wasn't a huge amusement park so I figured we'd just go with it. Also my family makes fun of me for overplanning so I thought we'd do it their way.

I wish I'd done more planning. I did research enough before we went to find out that if you go in after 3 pm, your ticket will be valid for the whole next day. Dollywood isn't cheap so we knew it would be great to get that extra time. That's my #1 tip for a trip to Dollywood, take advantage of that deal and go 2 days. Our chiropractor also gave us a $40 off coupon he found on some sodas so we were able to utilize that as well.

Now every time you go into the park there is a $12 parking fee. Using the 2 day deal, we had to pay the parking fee twice, but it was well worth it. Don't worry too much about where you park. There are trams constantly running from every area of the parking lot right up to the front of the park. The trams were fantastic and made life much easier. On the tram they said all kids need to be measured to get a bracelet with their height on it. We took our kids to the measuring station, but since they were both over 50" they didn't need a bracelet. Skip it if you know your kids are taller than 48".

When you go, you can buy your tickets in advance or there are kiosks to purchase tickets. That would save you some time standing in the ticket line. We couldn't use those options since we had an extra coupon, but it is there. If you go back the second day, there's no need to stand in the ticket line. All bags and purses are checked before entering and no weapons are allowed.

Now the first day we walked around the whole park. We rode a few rides but didn't worry about hitting them all because we were going back the next day. In our case, that was a mistake. Our first day was a Friday, and it was not crowded at all. The lines were short and we didn't have any trouble making our way around the park. When we went back on Saturday, it was insane. It ended up being full to capacity that particular day, and we later heard some people were even turned away in the middle of the day! I think we went on a day that was an exception. We would have utilized the first day more if we would have realized.

There are close to 30 rides in the park. In our 2 days there, we only rode a small fraction of the rides. Part of that was because of poor planning. Part of it was because of the size of the crowd. Some of it was because Dollywood now offers Time Saver passes to skip ahead of the line and of course that makes the regular line slower. We never priced the express passes because we weren't willing to spend any more money for riding rides. In the future if we go to any amusement parks, I will research all of the rides and have a plan of action. On the first day, we waited until we had been there awhile to go and ride the big train that takes you all around the park. When we got there, the final ride for the day was over. We did make sure to go back for the first ride the next day, and we all enjoyed it very much. If you go, find the train schedule and plan to be in line 20 minutes before the departure time.

The park offers refillable cups and buckets. The cups were 2 for $19.99 but can be refilled for .99 at many locations throughout the park. The buckets were around $5 the first time and could be refilled with popcorn or pork rinds for various prices around the park. They turned out to be a good deal because we got lots of refills for ourselves, and the 3 kids we had in tow. We also had lunch at a little Chicken Strip shop on Saturday. Like everything else that day, the line was insanely long and the sad chicken strips were extremely overpriced. You can't take in any outside food or drink, but I'd plan better next time and find a place serving better food.

There are water rides and those are some of the best in the park. Wear appropriate clothing and take extra shoes. Some rides don't allow flip flops so keep that in mind. The second day we took some towels and extra shoes in a backpack.

As with most parks, almost everything costs extra. Keep that in mind when making a budget for your trip. There are family dryers after each water ride, but there is a cost. Most rides offer lockers, but you must pay for each one. As you exit Dollywood you go through a HUGE souvenir shop. It's better to buy any there at the end so you aren't carry it around throughout the park.

Even my husband said we needed matching shirts on the Saturday because it was so crowded. It isn't a bad idea to at least match so you can spot one another in a crowd!

Dollywood was a fun place, and we enjoyed it even with the huge crowd. I didn't receive any type of compensation for this post, I just wanted to share some tips with you for your trip to Dollywood!