Thursday, April 28, 2016

Any Questions?

Leighton wrote the following post for a series called The Sharpening Stone for our church's website exactly one year ago today. I thought it would be a good reminder to re-post it here. This instance made such an impact on my kids that they still talk about it today. 

 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving 
let your requests be made known unto God.  -- Philippians 4:6

The other day we were taking the kids out to go geocaching. Our children love going. It gives a chance to get some fresh air, exercise, and time together. As we were getting ready to go Erika, my wife, reminded me to make sure I grabbed a pen. That way we can sign the logs in the caches we find. I assured her that i would grab one before we left and went on gathering the necessities to get five kids ready for caching. I made sure we had our GPS, the wagon and stroller were in the van. Erika had the water and a few snacks ready. All was good to go, so we went. We drove out to a local bike and walk path where a couple cachers had hid quite a few caches along the walkway. We got everybody unloaded from the van then into the stroller in the wagon and headed down the path. I got the first cache set on the GPS and we were off. We got the first location and began our search for the cache. It is always easier for the adults to find them so we kind of guide the kids in the right direction, but this time while I was looking in all the wrong places our daughter looked just in the right spot and found our first cache of the year.

She handed the tiny plastic container over to me and I reached for my Fisher space pen, that is my unofficial geocaching pen, and it wasn't there. Of course, I forgot it, you probably saw that coming. I looked at Erika with a plea in hopes she knew I'd forget and brought a pen of her own. Nope. So I lean on our oldest child and nothing from him. So our first cache of the year goes unsigned by us.

At this point I just figure I messed up and now we simply won't be able to sign any logs today. That's not what Erika nor our oldest thought. As we then continue down the path toward the next set of coordinates they each independent of each other ask God to give us a writing utensil. Erika asks for a pen and our son asks for a pencil. Independently! Erika didn't say out loud maybe we should ask God to give us anything. He simply asked on his own. Erika did say after she finished her prayer that she had asked. This lead to an immediate almost surprised response form our son, "I just asked Him for a pencil!" They shared a laugh and as they began, and I mean right away, like he looked away from his mother and exclaimed, "Look!" He ran a few feet ahead and picked up about half of a broken pencil. God had given him his pencil. I, of course, had my knife on me and was able to sharpen it. The rest of our logs that day got signed, but more important then that, my son's faith in God grew a bit more.

I was humbled by the fact that I would just settle to suffer the consequences of my forgetfulness and not make such a simple request to the Creator of the universe. As if the idea of providing to such a simple need of one of His children was in some way below Him. Yet my 9 year old son was not afraid to make his request known and then even expect it to happen. 

What is so small in your life that you're afraid to ask for God's help. "Be careful for nothing," the verse says. Don't worry about it. Simply make the request.

Pin It

Greemu: The Green Alternative to Emu Oil

I love reviewing products for my kids as part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew team, I truly do. The homeschooling resources such as curricula, games, CDs, DVDs, and online subscriptions are a blessing to our whole family. Every now and then though, I receive something specifically for me, the mom. How fun is that? Oh, I could share these things with the kiddos, but I don't see them jumping up and down in excitement over beauty products, haha. The latest of these goodies is GREEMU from Devonian.

Devonian is not a company I had previously known, but it is distributed by Koru Naturals, which I am quite familiar with. It is a science-driven company that is devoted to creating natural beauty products using plants. They believe that anything that we currently derive from animal products can be replaced with suitable plant alternatives.

GREEMU is the green alternative to emu oil. Emu oil itself is extracted from the fat tissues of emus. These flightless birds from Australia have been the source of the oil that has been used by thousands of years as a hair and skin moisturizer and to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Pure emu oil has a composition of fatty acids that is not found in other oils, giving it these benefits.

After two years of research, scientists at Devonian have developed a product with the same lipid composition using a blend of plant oils and butters in place of the animal product. GREEMU is made of a combination of macadamia seed oil, palm oil, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, and rice bran oil.

I have been using emu oil since I reviewed it for Devonian's parent company, Koru Naturals. I was interested to see how they compared. First of all, they look identical. Both are a milky white liquid with a thicker consistency. They both have a mild, almost nonexistent smell. Both require only a drop or two for application. The only difference I have noticed is that the GREEMU absorbs slightly more slowly than the emu oil.

Because this works in the same manner as emu oil I, personally, cannot use this one as a facial moisturizer. Even a small amount makes my skin break out. However, like the other, GREEMU has been working wonderfully as an eye cream. Having a little one who does not sleep well at night can make for a tired-looking momma. I started applying this product and was pleasantly surprised to notice a difference after only a couple days. My eye area looked more refreshed and hydrated. Also, I pointed out in my last review, that the emu oil helped to lengthen my eye lashes. I started using GREEMU and realized that my lashes had gotten thicker. Gotta love that!

This oil works well on razor burns, especially in delicate areas, and other rashes. I noticed that one of my kids had a bit of a rash one day. I applied a few drops of this on the spot. After one application it looked better. After two, the rash was gone completely.

I have nothing bad to say about this product. It works well and is all natural. If you already like emu oil, you'll be pleased with this alternative (that is less expensive, as well!) If you're looking for a beauty product without harmful chemicals and not derived from animals, try a bottle of GREEMU.

You can connect with Devonian (through Koru Naturals) on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of this oil on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

George Washington: True Patriot

Our family loves to read, so it's no surprise that our favorite reviews often are of books. The kids enjoy reading for a while each day on their own, but they especially love when my husband or I read aloud to them. We read all sorts of books, but the older kids have grown to love biographies. They like reading about the lives of people, knowing that that events actually took place. They're fascinated to study the actions, vocabulary, foods, dress, and thinking of past periods and seeing they ways in which our lives differ.

The books from YWAM Publishing are our favorites for biographies, and I often recommend them to others. I knew my kiddos and I would enjoy reading Heroes of History- George Washington: True Patriot and incorporating the accompanying Digital Unit Study guide.   

The book starts with Washington as a young boy. In a short amount of time, he experienced much heartache and acquired much responsibility. He was obligated to stay home and care for his mother and many siblings, but his heart craved adventure. Through a series of events, he learned surveying and was able to journey through western frontier. The cold, rain, fleas, ticks, and wilderness did not discourage him. He worked hard and earned money to buy land and many fine things.

After the death of his eldest brother, he was able to gain the position of adjunct of the Virginia colony and the red uniform that went with it. This was his first taste of military life. He was tenacious, was given a special assignment, braved great danger, and earned the respect of many people. 

His story continues as he fought for the British, fought against the British, got married, experienced the death of more loved ones, and gained power and importance. He trusted God and strove for a free, unified country. He was well-loved, but understood that today's heroes could quickly become tomorrow's scapegoats. His path to the first president of the United States of America was not of his choice, but rather duty. His life was spent as a sacrifice for his country, often setting aside his will for the best of the people. He was a remarkable man and one to esteem.

Along with the book, we received the digital unit study guide. The guide helps to further your study including geography, social studies, and history, to name a few. It designed to benefit all learning styles, group and individual study, and a wide range of ages.  

The guide includes the following:
  • Student Explorations - essay writing, creative writing, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, arts/crafts 
  • Community Links - meaningful field trips, guest speakers, service projects
  • Social Studies - reproducible maps, geography, terms/vocabulary, conceptual questions, critical thinking
  • Related Themes to Explore - politics & law, math, history, science & medicine, geography
  • Culminating Event - project displays, cultural food, music, activities, oral presentations
  • Bibliography or Related Resources - books, movies, documentaries, magazine articles, websites

Since the recommended age is 10 and all but one of my kids are younger, a lot of the study guide was a bit advanced for them. We discussed the comprehension questions at the end of each chapter. The first question was always a vocab word (cantering, aversion, armada, formidable, etc.). I'd ask the kids what the word meant. If no one knew, I'd use it in a sentence. They'd tell me the meaning after that. I personally loved that part. It's very important to me to read my children rich literature that incorporates vocabulary that is above their level. I also enjoyed discussing the questions with them. It helped us to review the story and got them understanding it more fully. We also practiced cartography, made a timeline, and wrote newspaper articles. I fully intend to read this book again with them many years from now so we can partake in the other great activities in the guide. We can create an election campaign or host a levee.  We can act out a play about Washington's life, write essay questions, and recreate objects from the era like wax candles, embroider samplers, line cuttings, and more. The study guide is filled with activities, projects, and ideas to greatly further your study.  

Both the paper and digital copies of the book can be purchased for $7.50 and the digital unity study can be purchased for $5.49. We enjoyed these materials immensely. In fact, we own multiple books from their heroes series. It's not just Heroes of History books they offer, they have Christian Heroes and Heroes for Young Readers, too. All in all, we own 20+ of their books. Yeah, we love them that much. Not only does a purchase give you quality books at a great cost, it helps support missions around the world.

You can connect with YWAM Publishing on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see more biographies and study guide offered by YWAM Publishing, please read the reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It

Monday, April 25, 2016

God Answers Prayer

This week has been rough.

I'm physically and emotionally spent.

And, honestly, I don't see much changing over the next few days. Sometimes parenting is hard. Life is hard. But I don't have to handle it on my own. (Yes, my husband is wonderful and is a hands-on parent, but he has many responsibilities of his own, as well.) Time and time again, when I reach the end of my rope, when I feel like I'm drowning, God is immediately there for comfort. For relief. For help. I can see Him in a big, real way. I know that He cares. When I finally come to Him broken, I can imagine Him saying, "What took you so long?"  

Too often, I think, I try to do too much on my own. Raising and schooling 5 little kids is busy. Throw in a week like this past and it can get overwhelming. I have piles of laundry to be put away and dishes to be washed. The kitchen floor needs to be swept and the carpet throughout the house needs to be vacuumed. Again.

So what am I doing writing instead of caring for my home?

I stayed home today with a sick little boy. My other little loves are singing tonight during church. I was sad to miss it, but promised to listen online to the live stream of the service. I kissed them goodbye, tossed yet another load of laundry in the washer, and cuddled my baby.

I watched the clock so as not to miss their song. Then my little guy had another episode, and it was not pretty. I washed him up, changed his clothes, cleaned the mess on the carpet, and put him down to sleep just in time for the song to start.

The most beautiful sound came through the speakers.

Oh, it wasn't that every note was hit just right or that their pitch was perfect. In the musical sense, it wasn't flawless. But they're kids. And 3 of them are mine. 

Most importantly, they sang from their hearts.

Did you ever talk to God above?
Tell Him that you need a friend to love.
Pray in Jesus’ name believing
that God answers prayer.
Have you told Him all your cares and woes?
Ev’ry tiny little fear He knows.
You can know He’ll always hear
And He will answer prayer.
You can whisper in a crowd to Him.
You can cry when you’re alone to Him.
You don’t have to pray out loud to Him;
He knows your thoughts.
On a lofty mountain peak, He’s there.
In a meadow by a stream, He’s there.
Anywhere on earth you go,
He’s been there from the start.
Find the answer in His Word; it’s true.
You’ll be strong because He walks with you.
By His faithfulness He’ll change you, too.
God answers prayer.

I stood in my kitchen with tears streaming down my face as the music filled the room.

A minute later, as I was still wiping tears from my eyes, my phone chimed. My husband had videoed the moment so I wouldn't miss it. (I sure do love that man.) I listened once more as I watched them sing. And once more I cried.

Those words sung by my little ones touched me. God does answer prayer.


Today is now Monday. That is all I had time to write before my family returned from church and the baby was woken from the noise that is my children. I stayed up late caring for him and woke up early with him, as well. I get discouraged at times because there is much I would like to write for our blog--memories, favorite recipes, DIY projects, experiments, fun. Life. When it comes down to it though, my family is my first responsibility. My poor blog gets set to the side, and I write in snippets when I find the time.   

I had considered changing the wording in the beginning to fit today, but decided against it. This is life. This is real. This is the busyness I mentioned. 

And this is all the more reason I need God.
Today I find time to write again as the baby is napping.

Have you told Him all your cares and woes?
Ev’ry tiny little fear He knows.

"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." I Peter 5:7

You can whisper in a crowd to Him.
You can cry when you’re alone to Him.
You don’t have to pray out loud to Him;

"The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles." Psalm 34:17

On a lofty mountain peak, He’s there.
In a meadow by a stream, He’s there.

"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." Jeremiah 33:3

Find the answer in His Word; it’s true.
You’ll be strong because He walks with you.
By His faithfulness He’ll change you, too.
God answers prayer.

"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

When you're discouraged, He's there.
When you're dealing with sickness, He's there.
When you're correcting attitudes, He's there.
When you're stressed, He's there.
When you're heartbroken, He's there.

When life gets too be too much and you're overwhelmed, God is there.  

I love how God used a ministry of my children to remind me of this truth. What a blessing these little ones are. May they never forget these words themselves and always hold them dear. May they forever remember to call upon Him.

God answers prayer.

*God Answers Prayer by Frances Towle Rath & Greg Soule

Pin It

Friday, April 22, 2016

Writers in Residence Review

I enjoyed writing stories as a child. I grew up and took writing classes for my English major in college. Now, I write for our blog. My husband wrote stories, too, and continued even as he got older. I have multiple poems he's written me over the years, as well. {swoon} Our daughter writes stories often and has her own notebook specifically for them. Our oldest son though? Hates writing. When we talk about his writing assignments, I always get the typical response, "Why do I need to learn this?" He think because he doesn't want to become an author that he shouldn't need to hone his writing skills. I've tried to show him how practical it is to put your thoughts into written word, whether he wants to write a sermon, fill out a resumé, send a letter, go to college, get certain jobs, along with other examples. I couldn't seem to get through to him, so I was hoping maybe Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries would help.     

Apologia Educational Ministries is well-known in the homeschool realm for their science curricula and other biblical worldview products. This Christian company believes "that every educational subject in your home school can and should be taught from a biblical worldview built on the solid foundation of God’s Word and centered on Jesus Christ." It's always best to use products that reinforce your beliefs. We have loved everything we've gotten from Apologia in the past, so I was looking forward to this product, as well.
Writers in Residence is a new language arts curriculum created by Debra Bell. This all-in-one student text and workbook will guide your students through the entire writing process. Along with learning how to create engaging stories and essays, they'll learn sentence structure, the parts of speech, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Instead of focusing solely on the four traditional forms of writing (personal, expository, persuasive, and narrative), this curriculum teaches the student how to combine several forms of writing as it is more practical.

There are four types of writing projects throughout the course:
  • I Remember -- Students write about experiences they had.
  • I Imagine -- Students write high-interest, creative writing assignments in the form of fiction.
  • I Investigate -- Students use research skills to write a form of investigative journalism.
  • I Think -- Students write persuasive essays  and defend them with logical reasoning, facts, and examples.      

The program is divided into six units with multiple modules each. 

Unit 1: When I Was Young -- Writers use their memories as a source of ideas.
Unit 2: Very Truly Yours -- Writers use their imaginations.
Unit 3: My Family Hall of Fame -- Writes should write what they know.
Unit 4: My Favorite Author -- Learning to think deeply.
Unit 5: The History of Me -- Learning to dig into your past.
Unit 6: Zap! Pow! Kazam! --Learning to create great characters.
The Writers in Residence curriculum is intended for 4th grade and older, but is flexible enough to be used with multiple ages at a time. A sample schedule is given at the beginning of the book. This tool makes it very easy for my son to know what assignments need to be completed each day and helps him to not get overwhelmed by the size of the very large book.
Speaking of large, this book is packed full of not just assignments and directions, but all sorts of little tips and snippets of information. The book is engaging and colorful. It grabs your attention with its format and isn't a typical "boring" textbook.

An Answer Key book is also included with the all-in-one student book. This key contains all the answers for the student activities in which there are specific answers, like the punctuation and capitalization exercises, answers to reading assignments, definitions, and more. The answers are shown in green type on pages that look identical to the student's book.

Both books are easy to use. My son is being challenged by the assignments, but not to the point of frustration. We had a few very rough days in the beginning, but because the lessons build on previously taught concepts and skills, he is becoming more confident in his writing. I still cannot say that he enjoys writing, but he is starting to accept that it's a necessary skill to know. In fact, the other day he told me that he read that he needed to learn to write properly so he could make quality scripts for his stop motion videos. Hey, it's a start! Whatever it takes to grab his attention in learning this skill works for me.  

I am pleased with the content of Writers in Residence. It's thorough and systematic and is written in a way that my 10-year-old can understand. The assignments are interesting and not overwhelming. I have seen improvements in both my son's writing and his confidence. While he may never completely enjoy the writing process, I do believe this book is making a difference in helping him to accept it.

You can connect with Apologia Educational Ministries on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used this program, please read the reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It

Friday, April 15, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 4/8/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (8), Zac (6), Tyler (4), Nicholas (1)

Happy Friday! This week was pretty typical--LEGO, reading, crafting, baking. Smiles.

1. Tyler, making up jokes: "Why did the grass eat the grass?"
Me: "Why?"
Tyler: "Because it was hungry!"

2. Hearing the older kids give commands like "Get thee hence!" and "Crucify him!" when their younger siblings are bothering them. 

3. Me: "Daddy lost his voice."
Alyssa, laughing: "Do you think he's dumb?"


5. Me, reading: "What did God help people to build so children could learn?"
Zac: "Houses!"

6. Tyler: "Where are we going?"
Me: "Church."
Tyler: "Aw, I just want to go to Gramma's. I like Gramma's."
Me: "I know you do."
Tyler: "I like Gramma!"

7. Tyler, after hearing me talk about someone he doesn't know: "What world is she from?"


9. Alyssa: "We should make a thing to show 3 ways how God is like Swiss cheese. (1) It's holey and God is holy."
Me: "(2) It's white and white means pure. God is pure."
Jake: "(3) It's delicious."
Alyssa: "God isn't delicious."
Zac: "'Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.'" (Psalm 34:8)

What made you Smile this week?

Pin It

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream Cake

Having kids with birthdays just 3 days apart means that we eat a lot of cake during the third week of March. Each child gets to pick the kind of cake he wants for his actual birthday and then they have to decide together on a cake for their combined party with our extended family. 

This year, Tyler was insistent on having an ice cream cake for the party. Ice cream, yes! This would mellow our abundance-of-cake week. I discussed some flavor options with him and Alyssa. I said something about peanut butter cups and ice cream sandwiches, and it was settled. No other combinations could sway their decision. And who could blame them? Chocolate & peanut butter is one of the best flavor combos ever. We have plenty of recipes featuring the two already (like these homemade Butterfingers made with a crazy ingredient, this decadent peanut butter brownie torte, this rich and creamy peanut butter pie, these peanut butter bars which is one of our absolute favorite desserts, these homemade Girl Scout peanut butter patties, and the ever-faithful no-bake cookies), but you can never have too many chocolate-peanut-butter desserts. Am I right?

The ice cream cake was a hit at the party. In fact, the entire thing was eaten that night. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I mean, you always want to serve something that people enjoy, but it also means that there were no leftovers to enjoy later! 

Alyssa had chosen a rich, mint chocolate chip cake (which is another favorite of mine!) for her birthday day, but, I admit, I was pleased when Tyler said he wanted the ice cream cake again on his birthday. Yes, more cool peanut buttery goodness. I've trained them well, you know, refined their palates and stuff.

In addition to being delicious, this cake is incredibly easy to make. The hardest part is assembling it before the ice cream melts. Chopping the peanut butter cups in the beginning and keeping the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer until needed (pulling out only 6 at a time) helps to keep your dessert in cake form, instead of a drippy, soupy blob.

To make this recipe even easier, you could use Cool Whip instead of making the whipped cream yourself. I, personally, love using fresh, whipped cream. It takes only a few minutes to make, yet the difference is amazing. Place a dollop on pancakes, garnish hot chocolate, ice a cake--it makes treats extra special.

I hope you enjoy this ice cream cake as much as we do! I'm already ready for another slice.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream Cake
18 ice cream sandwiches
1 cup creamy peanut butter
12 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, chopped
Chocolate sauce
Fresh, whipped cream (or 1-2 small tubs of Cool Whip)

1. Heat peanut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir.
2. Working quickly, place 6 unwrapped ice cream sandwiches on a serving platter. Spread half of the peanut butter on top. Sprinkle with 4 chopped peanut butter cups. Drizzle with chocolate sauce.
3. Arrange 6 more unwrapped ice cream sandwiches on top and repeat layer or peanut butter, peanut butter cups, and chocolate sauce. Place remaining 6 ice cream sandwiches on top.
4. Cover cake with whipped cream. Garnish with peanut butter cups and chocolate sauce. Freeze cake for at least 30 minutes, and until ready to serve. Keep leftover cake frozen.

Whipped Cream
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place metal mixing bowl and metal whisk attachment in the freezer for 10 minutes.
2. Place all ingredients in the bowl and beat until stiff peaks forms. Do not over-beat.

Pin It

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 41/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (8), Zac (6), Tyler (4), Nicholas (1)

This week we celebrated Easter, experimented with Pepper's Ghost, and tried to stop Nicholas from getting into anything and everything. Lots of reasons to Smile!

1. Jake: "You're writing with a pencil and the tip snaps. You say, 'What's the use of this pencil? It's pointless.'"

2. Zac: "I'm glad Nicky was born. I'm glad he's my baby brother."

3. Zac, complaining: "Mom, I'm trying to play with Nick but everyone else keeps erupting!"
Jake: "You mean interrupting?"
Tyler: "And Zac keeps interrupping, too!"


5. I was rocking in the chair, feeding Nicholas. He stopped eating, got a huge smile, and said, "dada!" He had seen Leighton's picture on the dresser.

6. Tyler: "I like that God made the world."
Me: "Me too."
Ty: "I like that God made the world because he made Gramma. And he made Great-Gramma."

7. Jake, the day after Easter: "Thank you for everything you did yesterday. I really appreciate it."

8. Zac, looking for a winter glove: "I can't find the other one."
Me: "It could be downstairs."
Zac: "It could be anywhere! Anywhere except China."


10. Me: "I'm putting Nicky down for a nap now, so it's time to be quiet."
Tyler: "Yes, sir, Mom!"

What made you Smile this week?

Pin It

Friday, April 8, 2016

LEGO Stop Motion

LEGO. If ever there was a review that my kids immediately fell in love with and wanted to use all the time, you can be sure that there is LEGO involved. To say that our family is obsessed with LEGO may be an understatement, ha. Our newest hobby has been using the tens of thousands of tiny bricks that we own and transforming them into stop motion videos using the Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit.

My husband has always been a fan of  claymation, and in turn all kinds of stop motion films. He played around with some LEGO stop motion using a simple app a while ago and piqued the kids' interests, too. He made a couple short clips and left it at that. All it took was this kit from Stopmotion Explosion to rekindle the stop motion excitement.

The kit includes everything you need to create your own stop motion videos.

  • Camera -- 720p resolution; Windows and OS X compatible; manual focus; full control of exposure, color, and white balance; tripod or table mount; fully-rotating head. 
  • Stopmotion Explosion Animate ANYTHING and Make MOVIES Book -- This 290+ page book contains everything you need to know to make amazing stop motion films. It has detailed step-by-step directions for screen writing, video editing, and audio recording. It gives tips on lighting, set design, composition, animation, securing objects, special effects, and more. 
  • StopMotion Explosion Software Disk -- The disc contains necessary files. The StopMotion Explosion software is used for capturing the images. Audacity is where you can complete the audio editing. There are also dozens of sound effects clips and extras.
We had gotten home very late the day our kit arrived. Normally, we would have put the kids to bed and shown them the contents of the package in the morning. Since we knew they would be thrilled to get it, we let them open it that night. (Ok, maybe my husband and I were just as excited as they were, ha.) There were squeals of delight. They couldn't wait to start playing around with the program.

My husband installed the software and made a quick test video to see exactly how this one works. Jake, our 10-year-old, wanted to start immediately, but we made him read the first few chapters of the book before starting, so he understood more. Of course, he flew through the beginning of the book and got busy creating his own stop motion film.

We had planned to borrow my mom's collapsible photography studio for the videos, but we hadn't expected the kit to arrive as quickly as it did and had not gotten the studio at that point. Jake didn't care about a distraction-free film and simply set up his scene on the kitchen table. As a result, his first video was dark and had the cord from the camera across all the images. I pointed that out to him and he made sure to watch out for it the next time. His first few videos were like that; I'd mention an aspect of his video that could be better, and he'd change it for the next time. 

He made this fishing video after a couple weeks of playing with the program.

He watches that video now and can point out things he'd like to do differently. For instance, the camera wasn't straight, which made the video tilted. Also, the scenes change quickly. When he added the audio after the pictures were created into the initial film, he realized he didn't have much time to say the things he wanted to.

There is much work involved in making a stop motion film. Not only do you have to take the pictures of the characters or objects in different positions, you have to make very small movements with them, otherwise, it moves too fast. Place your object (in our case, a mini fig), take a picture, move it slightly, take a picture, move it a little more, take another picture. It can almost get tedious. Jake's first few attempts were very fast-paced. He learned to make smaller movements and ultimately, better films. His fishing video is only 1 minute and 12 seconds long, yet there are 764 individual pictures that he took to make it.

There is much more to making a stop motion video than simply taking pictures after minuscule movements.

  1. Take pictures.  
  2. Export the pictures as a video file.
  3. Open the video in Windows Movie Maker (or another video editing program. This is what it recommended it the book, though we used a more recent version.)
  4. Record audio and add effects (credits, fade in & out, text, color balance, etc..) 
  5. Process the file to save as a video.

Jake was shown how to do each step one time. After that, he was able to set up everything on his own with no issues. Making stop motion videos has been a big deal at our house the past 6 weeks or so. And it wasn't just with Jake either. Oftentimes, all the kiddos would work together to create something or just to simply watch someone else work. Each of the other kids (8 yr, 6 yr, 4 yr) has made his own videos. The younger ones haven't added audio yet, but even our 4-year-old loves setting up a scene and taking pictures. 

One of the things we told the kids is that we would do a stop motion of building a set. Of course, we couldn't just take apart a set we already owned. This was a great opportunity to purchase a new one! My husband and I picked out the corner deli, for a few reasons. For one thing, it will work perfectly with some ideas we have for future films we're planning to make.

The kids helped their dad build the set, and then he added in the sound effects by himself. He put it together one night after the kids had gone to bed. The two of us laughed at the different option that are included with the software.

This is the final video:

Another product that Stopmotion Explosion sells is ModiBot Mo. This little guy was created to pose in a variety of ways, more like a human. The mini figs are great for LEGO-lovers, but sometimes you want a more flexible leading character. ModiBot Mo is a fun option for films. You can even purchase an accessory kit that includes a sidearm, field knife, rucksack, treadsoles, headphones, and a baseball cap.

Jake read about Mo in the book and decided to build his own modibot using, LEGO, of course. I was quite impressed with his creativity and the flexibility of his guys. He used some of the techniques found in the book for his fighting sequence. See if you can spot things like an uppercut, left hook, or roundhouse kick.


While this program is fantastic, there are a few things that we have been less-than-impressed with, and they all have to do with the camera. First of all, the clip is not strong and doesn't attach well to things. It easily wobbles if there is movement near it. Secondly, it's difficult to focus the camera. Because of the design, the dial does not turn easily, which makes it hard to keep the camera steady as you focus. Once the camera moves even just a tiny bit, you have to realign it to keep your video smooth. Another thing that was disappointing is that there are no keyboard shortcuts. Many programs will let you scroll through the pictures with the arrow keys along with some other options. While you technically can grab the pictures with the space bar, if you stop to check your live view, you have to re-click with the mouse. There were many times when someone thought they were taking pictures while pressing the space bar, only to find out nothing was done. The final thing that could be improved is that even though the camera says that it defaults to 720p (the highest setting on this camera), it's actually using a much lower quality. Each time you open the program, you have to manually change it to get the 720p. All of our first videos were taken at 480p, because we didn't realize it needed to be changed.

Stopmotion Explosion does sell a higher quality camera that looks like it fixes many of the things I mentioned.

Camera issues aside, this kit is amazing. The book is a phenomenal resource for stop motion. The information in it is completely thorough and gives some fascinating tips like how to make an explosion with cotton balls, what sticky notes can be used for, when to use a flashlight, how to make a character fly, and so much more. I'm so excited to see how my kids improve by implementing more of the guides found in the book and seeing how they incorporate the sound effects.

I asked the kiddos what they thought of Stopmotion Explosion.

"It was awesome!"

"The best thing in the world!" 

"It was really fun to do it!"

I have a feeling that stop motion has become part of our lives for good. I'm so thankful we received this animation kit.

You can connect with Stopmotion Explosion on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see more reviews of this kit or watch some other fun stop motion videos, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Times Tales Review

Math seems to be one of those subjects that you either love or hate; there is no middle ground. My oldest, for instance, is one who experiences both feelings depending on the day. If he understands the concept, he tells me how much he loves math. If he's learning something new that pushes him mentally, he's convinced math is the worst thing in the world. I remember that learning multiplication was like a teeter-totter of emotions for him. Love, hate, love, hate, love . . . I didn't want my daughter to struggle with the I-hate-this feeling, but wanted to give her a good foundation in her multiplication facts. The Trigger Memory Co. has made a way to do just that. And to make it fun? Now that's just a bonus. Times Tales has changed the way we teach math facts.

Times Tales is a fun, new way to learn the upper times tables. By transforming the numbers into cute characters and creating stories with them, the multiplication products are easily and quickly memorized.

This animated program is divided into 2 parts, about 30 minutes each. The first part consists of the upper 3s and 4s tables (each number multiplied by 6, 7, 8, and 9) and the second part teaches the upper 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s (again, each number multiplied by 6, 7, 8, 9).

1. Meet the Characters -- The first part the of video introduces the characters and the numbers they represent.  

  • Butterfly = 3
  • Chair = 4
  • Sixth Grade Class = 6
  • Mrs. Week (and Mr. Week) = 7
  • Mrs. Snowman (and Mr. Snowman) = 8
  • Treehouse = 9
2. Learn the Stories -- This is where stories are told and the math facts are taught. The multiplication problems are hidden in the simple stories.
3. Story Quiz -- The times tale are reiterated as the stories are reviewed. The students play beat the clock as they try to answer the questions before they show on the screen.

4. You're the Story Teller -- Pause the video, say the story, and then play the video again to see if they are correct. The program stresses that the stories must be said in the proper order, so there is no confusion as the facts are learned.
5. Practice Flashcards -- Part 5 teaches the students hidden multiplication problems using the characters in place of numbers. This helps the student to recall the story, and in turn, the answer.
6. Flashcards -- In the last portion, the times tables are drilled, but this time use typical flashcards with numbers, instead of characters. Students play beat the clock once again to give the answers.

I had intended to use this program with my (just-turned) 8-year-old daughter who had no previous experience with multiplication. Once the video started playing and the characters showed on the screen, one of her brothers joined her at the table. Before long, I had four children crowded around the computer, watching the Times Tales. After watching the first two parts of the program (Meet the Characters and Learn the Stories) one time, I heard the kids shout out the answers to the problems. After one time? Could it really work that well?

I looked over to see a snowman standing on a chair. It made no sense to me, but I heard my girl say enthusiastically, "32!" 
Mrs. Snowman (8) stood on a Chair (4) to reach her 3 buttons and 2 mittens.   

To me, it seemed confusing. Surely this story couldn't be easier than simply memorizing 8x4=32. Time and time again though (no pun intended, ha), my daughter gave the correct answer. She hesitated on some, but I was shocked to see how many she could answer on the first day.

Three PDF files are included with the videos. There is a file with printables that correspond to part 1, a file to accompany part 2, and a file with the answer key. The printables for both parts are similar in format and include a crossword puzzle; flashcards with the characters; flashcards with the numbers; division flashcards with a number and a character; division flashcards with numbers; a practice test;  a test; and buildable roll'em cube game. 

Not only did my daughter love watching the videos, she begged to do her papers, too. The printables are nothing fancy, just simple review pages to help retain the knowledge. I think she was so excited to complete them because she knew the answers and was proud of herself. The older kids and I played variations of the games with the cubes, like if we answered the question correctly, we got that many points added to our total. I also had her quiz against her big brother using the flashcards, and she even won a few rounds!

My oldest is still quicker with his multiplication facts, most of the time, but he did tell me, "I wish I had this when I was learning." The animated characters along with the stories have made learning the facts so easy.  My daughter can answer all the multiplication facts quickly now. She is even learning their division counterparts, though she does struggle with those a little. I enjoy hearing my little boys recite the tables, too, and I haven't reviewed them at all, just allowed them to watch the videos.

My daughter knows that I always ask for the kids' opinions when I'm writing my reviews. Before I even asked, she said to me, "If I have to tell you anything that I liked about it, it's the whole entire thing."

The best thing I can say about Times Tales is that it works, it works quickly, and the kids love it.

You can see for yourself how the program works with a free trial of the 9s family. You can connect with The Trigger Memory Co. on Facebook to learn more, too.

If you'd like to read more reviews of this product, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It

Friday, April 1, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 3/25/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (8), Zac (6), Tyler (4), Nicholas (1)

Happy Friday! This week, we celebrated Alyssa's 8th birthday and Tyler's 4th birthday. It was filled with cake, presents, and lots of fun. We even managed to squeeze a bit of schooling in, ha. What made you Smile this week?

1. My Mom, watching Tyler play Minecraft: "That looks like a leopard."
Tyler, matter-of-factly: "No, that's an ocelot."
My Mom: "An ocelot? How did you know that?"
Tyler: "Because I can read."

2. Me, teasing, the next day: "I heard there was a leopard on your Minecraft game."
Tyler: "No, that was an ocelot."
Me: "Really? How do you know that?"
Tyler: "Because I can read."
Me: "You can? Wow! What letter does ocelot start with?"
Tyler: "Probably a P."

3. Zac, looking at homemade maple syrup: "Oh, look how beautiful it is."


5. Alyssa: "I love ham sandwiches!"
Zac: "Guess what I love."
Alyssa: "What?"
Zac: "Mom!"

6. Alyssa, looking at pictures of demolition derby cars: "Oh, I just can't look! {turns away and covers her eyes} Why would someone do that? I can't look! Those poor cars."

7. Tyler, eating peanut butter crackers: "I just shoved that whole, entire thing in my mouth. Wasn't that awesome?!?"

8. Tyler: "Is it my birthday party today?"
Me: "Yes, tonight."
Tyler, sad: "Aww, I thought it was today."
Me: "It is today."
Tyler, excited: "Right now?!?"

9. Alyssa: "I can't wait until I'm a mom. Having a baby is going to be easy."

What made you Smile this week?

Pin It

Memoria Press Literature

Being part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew means that we're always reviewing different types of curricula that meet various learning styles. In this way, our schooling can be considered eclectic. When it comes down to it though, our foundation is literature-based. We spend the majority of our school day reading. I want my children to have a love of reading good books with rich literature. My little ones often read books above their grade level, so I was pleased to receive the Third Grade Literature Guide Set from Memoria Press to use with my second grader.

Memoria Press is known for its easy-to-use classical Christian materials. They believe in the "cultivation of wisdom and virtue through meditation on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful" by training in the liberal arts and studying great books and great thinkers of the Western Tradition. Their products are characterized by 3 things: simplicity, quality, and affordability. They are designed to be used by anyone from an inexperienced homeschool parent to a seasoned classroom teacher.

This curriculum covers an entire year of literature by using the following books:
  • Farmer Boy
  • Charlotte's Web
  • A Bear Called Paddington
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins

Each title has a corresponding student study guide workbook and a teacher guide book. The teacher guide looks identical to the student book except that the answers are given. Also, it contains quizzes and tests for the students.

The student work books have the same basic format and are divided into chapters that correlate to the literature books.

Reading Notes
This portion lists 3-5 words from the chapter and defines them. It explains characters, places, and terms that are relevant to a certain time period. (Mr. Popper's Penguins varies slightly in that it has a Pronounce & Spell section where no definitions are listed.) 

This section pulls quotes directly from the book and prints in bold type a word in which the student may not understand. There are lines to write in a definition. Drawing attention to these words help the student to better understand the reading portion and encourages better vocabulary.

Comprehension Questions
This part asks 4-6 questions about the chapter. These questions help the student to think deeper, compare and contrast, form concise answers, write good sentences with proper capitalization and punctuation, and remember important aspects about the story. It also encourages purposeful reading.

This portion lists a quote or two from the story and is to be used for oral discussion. It introduces a higher-level of thinking as it can open the students to deeper concepts.*

Discussion Questions
This contains a handful of questions that, again, can be used to make the students dig deeper in their understanding. They might not understand everything fully just yet, but the questions be beneficial to the process.*

This section is filled with varying activities. Things like copywork, sequencing, composition, mapping, drawing, charting, character studies, and more further the learning and teach more than literature.

The back of the student book also contains an appendix. This section is quite fascinating. Depending on the study, you will learn a short biography of the author, farm machinery and clothing from the 1800s, poems, a recipe for marmalade and birds' nest pudding, and other interesting things.*

 *Mr. Popper's Penguins study guide does not have these sections. 

Since the studies are independent of each other, I gave my daughter her choice of which book she would like to start with. She chose A Bear Called Paddington. Right away, she enjoyed the story and fell in love with Paddington's silly ways. She read the book on her own, but would often read portions to her brothers and me that she found amusing, such as Paddington re-painting Mr. Brown's picture, his magic tricks, and his dropping a sandwich on a man's head at the theater.

This study does a wonderful job at encouraging developing reading skills and encouraging an active mind. I appreciate being able to point out difficult words or terms that are related to time-periods before the reading in order to better ensure understanding. The Comprehension and discussion questions let me know if she understood what she read. Since the teach guide is very thorough, if my daughter doesn't know the answer to a question, I can easily give clues or key words to jog her memory and get her to think of the answer on her own.

The enrichment activities were by far our favorite part of the study besides the actual reading of the book. We found locations on a map of London, determined Paddington's route on the globe, discussed what "You're worth your weight in gold" means, and made marmalade (which she fed to her baby brother "by the spoonful" just like Paddington.)     

We have thoroughly enjoyed this study together. She even asked me this morning when she can start another book from the list (she's chosen Charlotte's Web). While she is used to reading quality literature, this guide has taken her understanding of it to a deeper level. The teacher guides could not be simpler to use. I love that each title has its own student and teacher books instead of being combined into one large book for the entire year's curriculum. Quality literature, quality activities, quality learning. I am so thankful to have this resource in our home.

You can connect with Memoria Press on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of this level or of some of the other products offered by Memoria Press by visiting the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. 

Crew Disclaimer
Pin It