Review: Progeny Press–Bears on Hemlock Mountain e-guide

We love books in the house! I was familiar with Alice Dagliesh, the author of Bears on Hemlock Mountain, from some of her other works, but I had never read this one. It sounded like a perfect early chapter book for Bubba, who is really just learning to sit and listen to longer texts, and I was sure that The Bears on Hemlock Mountain e-guide by Progeny Press would be a perfect tool to helping make the story more accessible.

Bubba loved the story. Bears on Hemlock Mountain was perfect for him, and he found little Jonathan quite relatable. This is a fun, fun story, with a scary twist and a sweet ending. The Progeny Press e-guide is listed as for 1-3 grade, and the story itself was perfect for my young first grader.

My first grader, however, is a young first grader–in our local school system, he would only be in Kindergarten this year because he misses the cut off by two weeks, but he is mostly doing first grade work at home. The Before You Read activities were right at his level: we discussed the difference between a hill and a mountain, and listened to some birdsongs. We discussed the idea of hospitality, though we didn’t make a board as the guide suggests.

When we got to the main section-by-section part of the guide, however, I found it to be too challenging for my almost six-year-old. The questions want students to restate in their own words, and to use full written sentences (or, at least, there is plenty of space for lengthy phrases!), and Bubba just isn’t there yet.

Instead of trying to force him to write answers down in the guide, I decided to just use the study guide as helpful talking points. I previewed the guide, and then when we encountered that part of the story, I asked the relevant questions or pointed out the meanings of tricky vocabulary terms.

I loved the questions in the guide that connected the story to Scripture. We felt challenged to open our home in hospitality more often, like Jonathan’s mother, and to remember that God is always with us and we don’t need to feel scared.

The reflection questions that came at the end of the sections also encouraged really excellent conversation: what’s the difference between seeing and observing, or times when we feel scared and alone, or imagining how we would have felt if we were Jonathan–alone and scared, and finally hearing our father’s voice. What a lovely way to connect with my child as we chatted through these things!

At the very end of the study guide, there are a few suggestions for wrap-up type activities. Many of these were writing assignments that were far beyond my first grader’s current academic abilities, but we did have fun enacting the story together. We may also follow the suggestion of making sugar cookies to share as an act of hospitality.

I loved the fun bonus of a page of “Suggestions for Further Reading”–I added several to my wish list!

Overall, as a former elementary classroom teacher, I was impressed with the Bears on Hemlock Mountain e-guide, but I would probably recommend it for upper 2nd-lower 4th grade, with your average 3rd grader being the best audience. It includes solid reading comprehension pieces, reflection questions, vocabulary, as well as opportunities to stretch it into some excellent writing assignments–you could really use this as all of your Language Arts curriculum for a month or so, if you approached it thoughtfully.

You may want to explore the other offerings by Progeny Press, too–they offer e-guides for many classic works, from grades K-12.

If you’re interested in more reviews, head on over to the Homeschool Review Crew!

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