Friday, April 28, 2017

Drive Thru History

My kids like when we get curriculum to review--new stuff is always exciting--but it's a real treat when the product isn't typical "school" type of work. They especially love whenever I tell them we're watching TV for school. This time, we were able to study the subjects of both Bible and history in a fun way with Drive Thru History®. I had never heard of this world-wide, award-winning television series that debuted in 2004, but a quick look at some of their video clips had me intrigued, and I knew I needed to see more.   
Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” is the latest title of the collection. The 18 episodes focus on the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as accounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The host, Dave Stotts, takes you on an an exciting journey to over 50 ancient sites as he drives all across Israel and "thru history." His energetic personality and conversational style along with bits of humor tossed in make this series a joy to watch. The amount of information and facts that he spouts off throughout each episode is astounding. The story of Jesus' life is woven as you learn about the people, places, and events showing evidence from history, archaeology, and geography. 

Here is what you can expect to learn from "The Gospels":
  • Episode 1: The Historical Landscape
  • Episode 2: The Announcements
  • Episode 3: Jesus is Born
  • Episode 4: Jesus Grows Up
  • Episode 5: Jesus Starts His Ministry
  • Episode 6: Jesus Returns to Galilee
  • Episode 7: Jesus Begins His Miracles
  • Episode 8: Jesus Teaches with Authority
  • Episode 9: The Sermon on the Mount
  • Episode 10: Jesus Travels the Sea of Galilee
  • Episode 11: Jesus Travels North
  • Episode 12: A Final Trip to Jerusalem
  • Episode 13: Jesus Arrives in Jerusalem
  • Episode 14: The Last Supper
  • Episode 15: The Trial of Jesus
  • Episode 16: The Crucifixion of Jesus
  • Episode 17: The Resurrection of Jesus
  • Episode 18: Who is Jesus?

Each episode showcases multiple ancient sites that are still preserved today. Synagogues, cities, the remains of a fish market, Herodium, and even possibly Peter's house. Dave travels all over Israel and visits cities including Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Chorazin, Magdala, Hippos, Cana, and Samaria and places such as the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Dead Sea. He recites Scripture (though not the version we personally use) and references ancient quotes. He explains the culture during Jesus' life and shows how the rule of the Romans influenced the people. Dozens of paintings and illustrations that depict the stories are shown throughout each episode. Dave makes it easy to visualize the shepherds as the angel announced the birth of Christ or John as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River or Jesus Himself as He healed blind Bartimaeus. The stories come alive.

Included with the 3-DVD set is an accompany study guide. It is broken down by disc and episode. The format is consistent for each episode: a famous quote, summary of the episode, a list of discussion questions, corresponding Bible passages, and an additional tidbit of information or "side road." The pages are covered with additional art and photographs. The guide contains no answer key as it is meant to spark discussion for families, small groups, or Sunday School classes and not designed for testing purposes. My kids are enjoying looking at the various pictures and reviewing the topics of discussion. The study guide itself is attached to the middle of the DVD case. While I appreciate the fact that my little ones cannot misplace the booklet, it does make it somewhat difficult to use. I would rather have the guide printed as a separate book that could be placed in a sleeve in the case.

Our entire family has loved watching "The Gospels." I like when the kids shout, "Hey! I know this story," or "I learned about this at church." It is always fascinating to me to see how the Bible and other historical events line up. Though I know that the Bible is fact and the events truly happened, it can be difficult at times to see how everything comes together. Drive Thru History® has done a phenomenal job of portraying the chronological telling of biblical stories mixed in with information from other resources. There is so much information that we could watch this multiple times and still not remember it all. While some documentaries can be dry and boring, Drive Thru History® is fun, exciting, and entertaining. It is appropriate for the whole family and is an excellent educational resource.

Take a peek at the trailer and experience a little of Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”.

You can connect with Drive Thru History® on the following social media sites:

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

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 4/7/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (9), Zac (7), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2)

Happy Weekend!  This week we bought a new van, finished a new book, and made many Lego creations. Did you have a good week, too?

1. Jake, after listening to the nursery rhyme: "Mom you just need to get old and live in a shoe. You already have so many children."

2. Zac: "Mom will you maaaaarry me? Haha, I'm just kidding. One, by the time I'm old enough, you'll be too old. Two, you already married dad. Three, there is no three."

3. Alyssa: "Boys are so disgusting!"
Jake: "Thank you!"
Alyssa: "You took that as a compliment?"


5. Zac, to Alyssa: "Whenever I think of Mom, I think of a picture of her with a sweet smiling face. That's always the first thing I think."

6. Alyssa: "My foot fell asleep. It feels like there are bouncy balls bouncing inside it."

7. Tyler sneezed in the living room.
Nicholas, who was already in bed for the night, shouted back, "Bess you, Ty-Ty! Bess you Ty-Ty!"

8. I received this note under the bathroom door.

9. Jake, incredulous: "How could anyone not like vegetables? I mean, how could you not like broccoli?"

10. Jake: "I don't remember it at all. How old was I? One?"
Me: "Yes, one. I could show you pictures."
Jake: "They had cameras then?!"
Alyssa: "TVs were even around then."

What made you Smile this week?

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 3/31/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (9), Zac (7), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2)

Happy Easter! We had a crazy busy weekend, so I'm just getting to my Smiles. I am so close to getting caught up on my lists. I think. Ha. This particular week, Alyssa and I spent a day alone to celebrate her birthday, the kiddos started swimming lessons, we made blanket forts, and laughed a lot.  Did you Smile a lot, too?

1. Me, while Alyssa was trying to decide on a book at the bookstore: "This is going to take a while, isn't it?"
Alyssa: "You bet it will."

2. Tyler: "Zachy, did you know I love you?"

3. Jake: "In all those princess movies, the princess always sings at the top of her lungs. I mean, she's like screaming. And there's no one even listening! Who does that?"

4. Zac: "Mom, Alyssa hit me for no reason!"
Me, sternly: "Alyssa."
Alyssa: For no good reason."

5. Tyler: "Hey, Mom! The squirrels are playing tag!" 


7. Tyler, about homemade apple butter: "I love it 100 percent!"

8. Jake, while sitting under a new, fuzzy blanket: "It feels like I'm sitting in a cloud!"

9. Me: "Jake, it's rude to chew with food in your mouth."
Jake: "Yes, ma'am."
I realized what I said and started laughing.
Jake: "What?"
Me: "I said it's rude to chew with food in your mouth."
Jake: "Oh, hahaha!"
Zac, confused: "It's not?"

10. Tyler: "Mama, are you older than all the 100s?"
Me: "No."
Tyler shocked: "Reeeaally? You're less?"

11. Jake: "I'd hate to be a spider. I mean, you could just be sitting there then, squish, die. And your life is over."

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Digital Savvy Review

My husband is a very tech-savvy guy. Even back in our college days, he kept up with the latest and greatest gadgets. Me? Oh, I was perfectly content with a simple flip phone with no bells and whistles (until a year ago when he went out and bought me a fancy new one, ha). Though I do know my way around a computer, he is the one who knows all the nitty gritty details, from how they're built to how they run to understanding various programs and applications. And while I may not be interested in becoming a computer guru like my husband, my oldest son is following in his father's footsteps. He has a scientific mind and has been drawn to computers since he was little. He loved to play various games, but wasn't allowed to do much else on his own. Now that he's 11 years old, we permit him to use the computer for much more than recreational games. Tinkering around on his own is not ideal yet as we'd like to both guide and guard him. A course from CompuScholar, Inc. fit our need.

CompuScholar, Inc. (formerly known as Homeschool Programming) was founded by Chris and Andrea Yust as a means to provide proper teaching materials to help young students gain a love of computers and programming. Together, they have written more than 8 textbooks for kids and teens and strive to make computer science "approachable and available to all." The majority of the courses they offer are based around programming and development, but their new one, Digital Savvy,  teaches general computer skills.

Digital Savvy is geared toward grades 6-12 and is good for the those just beginning to delve deeper in computers and their applications. The course is designed for students to be able to complete it on their own (with available free technical support, if needed) even if they don't have parents who are technically savvy. They themselves, however,  should have minimal computer usage skills, like keyboarding, mouse, and operating system navigation prior to starting this course.

The two-semester class is broken into 25 chapters:

  1. Fundamentals of Computer Hardware
  2. Fundamentals of Computer Software
  3. Operating Systems
  4. Computer Files
  5. Computer Maintenance and Troubleshooting
  6. Computer Networks
  7. Search Engines 
  8. Computer Security
  9. Word Processing
  10. Spreadsheet Programs
  11. Presentation Programs
  12. Database Technology
  13. Project Management and Teamwork
  14. Mid-Term Project
  15. Digital Images
  16. Internet Communications
  17. Social Media
  18. More Social Media
  19. Creating Web Pages
  20. Web Page Design
  21. Web Links, Images, and Animation
  22. Programming Concepts
  23. Digital Logic
  24. Careers and Professional Skills
  25. Team Project

Each lesson includes a video, text, and quiz. Each chapter contains at least one hands-on project and an exam at the end. The user interface is easy to use. The home screen displays all of the chapters and a short description of each. It also lists the number of files, quizzes, and assignments are included in each chapter. Once the student chooses which chapter he wants to study, he is taken to a different page that breaks it down by lesson. From there, he can decide to watch the video or read the text. Then, he's given 3 opportunities to pass the quiz.

My son was ecstatic when I set up his account and handed the computer to him. He couldn't wait to learn so he'd be able to take advantage of the benefits of using a computer. That first day, he sat and watched the first 2 videos and completed the quizzes, even redoing the first quiz because he had gotten an answer wrong and wanted 100%. I soon noticed that he lost interest though. When I asked why, he responded with, "Why do I need to know this? It's boring." I urged him to work through it until the material got to a more interesting subject. When he continued to be uninterested, I encouraged him to skip ahead to a chapter he found more appealing. Unfortunately, that didn't help either. The monotone videos just could not keep his attention. Of course, there is the option of reading the text, and while he is an avid reader, that is not the optimal learning style for him in this instance.

Digital Savvy contains much information about early computer skills that might be more appealing to other students. My son is at the very low end of the intended age range. As he gets older, he may find more interest in this course. Just because it was not a good fit for us, doesn't mean you should let that stop you from checking it out for your family though. What's best for one isn't always what's best for another. Or maybe you'd be interested in another of their courses like Web Design or Java Programming.

You can connect with the company on social media with both their new rebranded name, CompuScholar, Inc., or their previous name, Homeschool Programming.   


Homeschool Programming:

You can read more reviews of this program or of some of their other courses on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 3/24/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (9), Zac (7), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2)

This week was filled with much celebrations as both Alyssa and Tyler had birthdays. Cake, presents, fun, and Smiles were aplenty. How about you?

1. Zac, after Alyssa made dinner: "I could feast on this all day."
2. Alyssa, because Leighton came home from work with flowers for her birthday: "I think Dad loves me."
3. Tyler: "I love basketti!"
Jake: "What about spaghetti?"
Tyler: "Haha, yeah, basketti. Remember when I called it pasketti on accident?"
4. Nicholas, for 2 solid minutes after we left my parents house: "Bye, Papa! Bye, Papa! Bye, Papa! Bye, 'Ramma! Bye, Papa! Bye, 'Ramma!"
Then . . . Silence. 
Nicholas: "LOVE YOU, PAPA!!! Love you, Papa!!!Love you, 'Ramma!!! Love you, Papa . . ."

5. Alyssa made brownies with Nicholas' "help."
6. Jake: "Can a squad be only 4 people?"
Me: "No."
Jake: "Really? I thought it it could because it has quad in it."
7. Jake, about Math Mammoth: "I used to hate math and now I only dislike it!"
8. Jake: "What always tells the painful truth? . . . A scale."
9. Tyler: "Mom, do bad and sad whyme?"
Me: "Yes."
Tyler: "Wow. I'm so easy at whyming."
What made you Smile this week?
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer

Have you noticed how many book reviews we've been getting recently? The kiddos and I have been thrilled to be able to receive so many wonderful books to enjoy. Our favorite part of the day is when we cuddle up together on the couch (well, some of us cuddle--it's always a race to see who calls a seat by Mom first--and the others typically build with Lego) and read aloud. It's not only a special time of bonding, but also an effective way of learning. Without realizing, the kids are learning sentence structure, pronunciations, and vocabulary, along with whatever topics are covered in the chosen book. In this particular book written by Peggy Consolver - Author, they learned about geography, history, culture, and the Bible. 

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer is a fictional story based on true events. It was the result of several years of Peggy Consolver reading through a chronological reading plan of the Bible. She began to focus on the Gibeonites and question their response to the Hebrews, when everyone else in the land chose a different plan of action. Starting with the facts, she took the story recorded in Joshua chapters 9-10 and embellished it. By filling in details of historical culture, weaving in other biblical references, and adding her own imaginative plot, she made the story of the Gibeonites come alive.

The story follows Keshub, a young shepherd boy born in a potter's family. He's a typical boy that dreams of adventure and experiences plenty as his tale unfolds. Defending his flock of sheep from a bear and a lion, befriending an evil king's son and helping him escape, being tormented daily by the village bully, traveling to large neighboring cities, becoming a spy to keep watch on the feared Hebrews, coming face-to-face with enemy soldiers, and living the life of a slave are some of the excitement that's mixed into his mundane tasks of caring for sheep, stopping clay, carrying water, and living a simple life.

The God of the Hebrews--the Star Namer--commanded them to utterly destroy their enemies. As the Hebrews defeat the cities in their path, the Gibeonites must decide what to do.  Do they stay and fight? Do they run and hide? Their decision will decide the fate of their people, and Keshub and his family play a main role. 

I hadn't originally intended to use this book as a family read-aloud. I gave it to my oldest two kids (ages 11 and 9) to read independently. They were intrigued by the story line as they enjoy learning both Bible and historical stories. However, they lost interest very early on and I realized neither of them was reading the book after a couple days. Once I determined to read it to them, I understood why. Not only is the book filled with uncommon names (after all, it does take place in the Middle East thousands of years ago), the beginning of it is very detail-oriented and adjective-heavy. I finished the first couple chapters and wondered how we'd make it through the nearly-400-page book. Then something changed. The writing style shifted slightly, we became familiar with the names, and we found ourselves immersed in the story.

"I love this book!"

"Can you read another chapter? Please?"

"This is so exciting!"

Because Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer is based on true events, my kids loved catching all the biblical story references throughout book.
  • Manna
  • Serpents in the wilderness
  • Moses on the mount
  • Rahab protecting the spies
  • destruction of Jericho
  • Crossing the Jordan river
  • Pillar of fire and cloud 
  • Sun standing still for a day
  • And more.
The author has also written Digging Deeper into HIStory, an accompany study guide to the book. It is filled with links, maps, pictures, videos, how-tos, and other information to help you learn more. There is a free sample on the site, as well.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer allowed us to see the story of the Gibeonites from a different point of view and  helped us to remember that these events were historical fact and not simply stories. My kids range in age from 5-11, and while they greatly enjoyed listening to this as a read-aloud, I believe the reading level is intended for an older crowd. The author has done her homework and it shows in the product of her book. We won't know what thoughts went through the minds of those Gibeonites until Heaven, possibly, but Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer gives a description that is believable and a good example of what may have been.

You can connect with Peggy Consolver - Author on her website and Facebook

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

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 3/17/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (8½), Zac (7), Tyler (4½), Nicholas (2)

Happy Weekend! This week, Jake made giant soft pretzels, we read lots of books, and shared many Smiles.

1. Jake, making up a joke: "Which book of the Bible is named after a fruit? . . . Lemontations. 

2. Tyler, to Alyssa: "Sissa, I love you."

3. Nicholas helping my mom wash dishes after dinner.

4. There was a bad storm and we lost power shortly after church began, but continued as normal. When we picked up the kids from their classes after the service was over, they said, "This was the best Wednesday night ever!"

5. Jake, about my aunt in Texas: "We see her only once a year. That's not enough."

6. Jake, making up a joke: "What animal always have a bad attitude? . . . A crab."

7. Alyssa: "Why does my arm look like colby jack cheese?"

8. Zac, making up a joke: "What type of food do fishermen hate the most? . . . Leeks!"

9.I was making chocolate chip cookies. When I turned around, I saw that Nicholas has stolen the dough-covered beater off the counter and was innocently sitting and eating it.

10. Jake wanted me to take a silly picture of him. After he saw it, he told me I could delete it.
Me: "No way! I'm going to show it at your wedding."
Jake: "Well, whoever I marry is going to love me for who I am, not what I've done." 

11. I climbed on the counter to reach the top of the mirror to wash it.
Nicholas: "No fall, Mama.Careful. No fall. {holds his arms out so I'll jump into them} Catch you."

What made you Smile this week?
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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Manhood Journey

A Note from Erika:
We've been part of the Homeschool Review Crew for over 5 years now. During that time, I've written many reviews, but this is the first one that Leighton has done. When I first saw that we had the opportunity to use the Manhood Journey Father's Starter Kit, I thought it was a great way for Leighton to have some quality one-on-one time with our oldest son. We need to be intentional in training our children and this kit is designed to help fathers do just that. Manhood Journey & City on a Hill Studio have created a system for ages 8-17 that involves discussion questions, Bible reading, activities, and work assignments that all work together to help boys become men. The rest of the review was written by my husband.   

What boy doesn’t grow up imagining the day he will be a man? I know I did. To be free of authority, be married, and have kids of my own that I could have do all the chores. To finally be “free.”


Then I left home, went off to Bible College, and was all on my own. I didn’t have my license yet, so if I needed to go somewhere, it was my bicycle or convincing/paying somebody to drive me. Responsibility got thicker and trials got heavier. When the bank account got thin it was my fault. If I didn’t have anything to eat it was my fault. If somebody took issue with what I had done I couldn’t hide behind anybody. It was time to step up and realize I had to be responsible for me. Some people might help, but ultimately it was up to me. I had made it to manhood.

Or, did I?

When Jake (11 years) and I sat down to start this program, our journey, the first question we went over from the books was, “What is manhood?” His response was simple, “An adult man.” He said this to me like, “Dad, isn’t that obvious?” What we must realize and admit is that no individual ever arrives. One of the purposes early on in the series is to recognize that manhood is not a destination but rather a journey, thus, “Manhood Journey.”

The kit we received contained the first of six modules. Included in the kit was the “group guide” and the “1 on 1 guide” for the Embarking Module as well as a DVD with introductory videos for each of the modules. The kit also includes 10 map/brochures containing information about each of the modules to help recruit dads to join the group and decide which modules to complete after you finish the first. Included with the kit is a free copy of the book Wise Guys: Unlocking Hidden Wisdom from the Men Around You.

The program is setup to be used in a group setting once a week and then you carry conversations with your son(s) throughout the week about the group meeting. It does say that the guide can be used without the group, you just need to skip the group-related parts. This is what we did. I took our oldest boy, Jake, aside and he and I endeavored to go through the first module, Embarking. We have not, at this point, completed it, but so far we are enjoying the time together.

The purpose of the Manhood Journey is to help fathers to build up the next generation of godly men by providing resources and guidance for small groups of fathers and sons. The idea is for each father to be the main guiding influence in their son’s life to push them to godliness. Rather than relying on the pastor or youth pastor to instruct your son in a christian walk, you can do this yourself.

I was rather disappointed, when we got the kit, to find that the NIV was used when scripture was referenced throughout the studies. I firmly believe that the King James Bible is the Word of God for the English speaking world and any effort to make it “easier to understand” is changing it. This, though, is not the time to debate what is scripture and what is not. I am simply wanting to ensure that it is clearly known that this program does use the NIV primarily with a few quotes taken from other versions.

I do find the program very well put together and rich in content. You start with the five “big rocks” of Godly manhood. The fact that a godly man trusts God, prays fervently, studies God’s word, builds relationships, and serves others. An illustration is described and visualized using actual rocks to relate the need of these five things in a godly man. We chose to use Lego blocks, Duplos actually, along with regular Lego pieces to represent the smaller rocks. The goal was to see how to fit all aspects or "rocks" into your life. Start with the big important things, and the smaller things will fall into place. Jake now has a stack of five different colored Duplos on his shelf to help him remember these five character traits. These five “big rocks” are to serve as the foundation of your manhood journey.

For us the largest take away from the journey thus far is the time that Jake and I spend together 1-on-1. With five kids in the house now it has been a long time since Jake has received a lot of time alone with his father. The method that we have taken to is that I leave him a sticky note in the morning with a few references for him to look up in his Bible. He then writes down what it speaks to him. (The guide does have you each start a journal to take down notes from the journey.) We would then sit together at night and go over those few verses and the topics from the guide. Jake asks each evening when I get home if we are going to do the journey. He has been reading his Bible more and taking notes on all of it. I’m proud of what he is doing and have been enjoying our time together as father and son.

Even with my initial disappointment with City on a Hill’s choice of scripture reference I have enjoyed the other content of this program and would recommend it with the discretion of whichever version you use. Another suggestion I would make is to get both the group and 1-on-1 guides even if you are not meeting with a group. I have found in each of lessons we have done that I did not get the entire gist of the thoughts without first reading through the group guide. Not a deal breaker, but in the intro of the 1-on-1 guide, as well as on the site, the impression is made that the program can be done without the group guide if you are mentoring a young man 1-on-1. I really do like this idea of encouraging men to take the reigns of raising good godly men in their own sons. They will learn from the example we set for them rather than a possible conflict of what we do versus the other men we may place in charge of their time and teaching. By doing the training through our personal time we emphasize the importance of the traits we are trying to set in front of them.

As you go through the lessons that focus on each of the “big rocks” you are given questions that you can use to interact with your son. For some topics, the conversations that we have had with our boys has waned because of their desire of independence and our desire to not be overbearing, but any nervousness of topic choice can be set aside by the direction that is given in the guide. Simply read through each of the concise chapters before you take it to your son so that you are familiar with it. Use the guide as you teach him. Don’t be afraid to read from it when you ask the questions. It really is ok if your son knows you actually are a human and may not know everything. These guides really will help you through the entire process. Then once you are done with Embarking, you can choose your next stop. Whether it’s a clean heart, or teaching a good work ethic. Maybe it’s uncovering the reality of what being a man is apart from the lies from the world, or learning how to remain strong through trials and temptations. Also, lessons on servant leadership, remember, even Jesus lowered Himself to wash the feet of the men He was leading here on earth.

Let me simply encourage you that if your influence has waned in your son’s life or if you want a little more help as you try to teach and disciple your boys, give Manhood Journey a look.

You can connect with the companies on the following social media sites:

Manhood Journey

City on a Hill

You can see how other homeschool families used this study by reading the reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew blog. 

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 3/10/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (8½), Zac (7), Tyler (4½), Nicholas (2)

Happy Friday! `This week we went to The Henry Ford Museum, spent a bit of time reorganizing books, celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday with a day of fun, and made many memories together.

1. Zac, after he had put on his suit and combed his hair for church: "Now I look like a fancy gent."

2. Tyler, in the van: "I wish Nicky was in the front so cute driving."


4. Jake, making up his own joke: "What do you do when a popsicle is bad? You give it a lickture." (lecture)

5. Jake, watching a baby walk with squeaker shoes: "That would make it hard to sneak up on somebody."

6. Alyssa, after watching the Giant Screen Experience movie Mysteries of the Unseen World: "That was really interesting."


8. Zac, thinking: "My mind is tingling."

9. Jake, making up his own joke: "How did the hot dog go into the lion's den? It gathered all the courage it could mustard."

What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bessie's Pillow Review

I've mentioned many times how important reading is in our home. The kids spend the majority of their school day reading as that is the foundation of our schooling. While they enjoy getting lost in a book on their own, they especially love when we all sit an read aloud together. We like all kinds of books--picture books with cute stories, fiction books with fun characters, fantasy books with exciting plots--but our favorite type to read together is biographies. They are the perfect way to learn about not just a person, but the time period in which they lived, customs, clothing, words, cultures, philosophies, history, geography, and so much more. Reading them together ensures that I am able to stop and expound on parts of the book more thoroughly or explain advanced words.

We recently finished one such book, Bessie's Pillow, published by Strong Learning Inc., a well-known tutoring company in the New York area. Bessie's Pillow is the story of Bessie Markman, a Jewish girl from Lithuania who immigrated to America to avoid persecution. The novel, which is written in first person, was based on a series of conversations with Bessie's daughter Ann and later related to her granddaughter, Linda Bess Silbert, who put the story on paper.

The story begins in 1906. Bessie, or Boshka as she was called then, was only 18 years old. Life was difficult in Lithuania for the Jews. Though her family was more fortunate than most, they still saw much pain and devastation. In order to escape the ever-growing persecution, she left her family and all that she loved for a new life in America. The journey alone was difficult--weeks of travel, loneliness, inspections, the unknown. Even her plans upon arrival were changed because of poor circumstances.

Hard work and determination payed off and eventually Bessie found her way. A pillow and a promise set the course of her life. She found love, experienced extreme loss, and overcame hardships. Bessie was a pioneer for women's rights and giving everyone a well-deserving chance at success. She was giving and fair and truly had compassion on people. Her legacy still has an impact on the world today.

Because Bessie's Pillow is based on true events, there are some topics in the book that are more mature than what you'd read in children's books. My kids are 11, 9, 7, and 5. As I said, I use this time of reading together for deeper explanation. Many of the difficult portions I was able to describe on the children's level. Give just enough information for them to understand, without overwhelming them. It was not an issue for us, but the book may be better suited for older kids, or at least it's something to be aware of with younger ones.

That being said, the book is easy to read. It truly feels as if you pulled up a chair and grabbed a cup of coffee and some cherry blintzes and listened to Bessie herself tell you the story of her life. We found ourselves rooting for her to succeed and felt sorrow when times were difficult. There were a couple extremely rough experiences in her life that brought me to tears. I was choked up and then read through the sobs. One of my little ones looked up at me and quietly said, "This is a sad book." And it is. But it's also a book of happiness and blessing. And any book that can make you feel that much emotion is very well written.

Though the book itself is filled with all sorts of learning opportunities--Jewish customs and words, history, customs, culture--there is such a deeper level of study that can take place through discovering Bessie's America. I am amazed at the amount of work that has been done to compile this resource.

  • You can learn about immigration and even look for your ancestors' names on the database for Ellis Island records.
  • You can study the history of things and places mentioned, like the fire of the sweatshop factory where Bessie started work. 
  • You can discuss the health of the period and how advancements in cleanliness and medicines are able to help fight of the diseases of the past. 
  • You can watch video clips of singing and dancing that was popular and learn more about the theater.
  • You can find recipes of foods that they ate and discover how they got their names.
Even the back of the book itself is filled with valuable information. Explanations and descriptions comprise 20 pages of text, while photographs of the family fill others, as well.

Bessie's Pillow was well-loved in our home. Bessie's story deserves to be told, and I can see us reading and enjoying this book again.   

You can connect with Bessie's Pillow on the following social media sites:

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

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 3/3/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (8½), Zac (7), Tyler (4½), Nicholas (2)

Happy Friday! This week was filled with lots of Lego-building, book-reading, food-making, memory-creating fun. What made you Smile this week?

1. The kids had set up all our pillows to make a fort. Nicholas broke it down and Jake shouted: "The wall's been breached! Save the women and children!"

2. Alyssa, at my parents' house: "Did you know that I love to read? That's why I brought a ton of books!"


4. Alyssa, after church on the way to the nursery: "I can't wait to see Nicky! I missed him so much!"

5. Jake, while I was reading: "Hey, that reminds me of a song I made up 3 minutes ago!"

6. Alyssa, holding a new book that she had been reluctant to read: "You know the saying 'don't judge a book by its cover'? You really should listen to it!"

7. Alyssa: "I'm going to eat breakfast now. {looks at the clock} Whoa! I need to catch up! It's already Elenvenses."


What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Circle C Stepping Stones

Reading is a major part of life in our home and the foundation of our schooling. Since the kids fly through so many books in a week, we are always pleased to get new ones to review. This time, we received two new books!

The Circle C Stepping Stones books published by Kregel Publications is a brand new series. Andi Saddles Up and Andi Under the Big Top are books 1 and 2 of the six-book set written by Susan K. Marlow. The Circle C books follow Andi Carter as she grows up on a cattle ranch in California in the late 1800s. There are four levels of books:

  • Beginnings -- tells stories of young Andi in easy-to-read text and includes fun illustrations. 
  • Stepping Stones -- focuses on 9-year-old Andi. The vocabulary is a little more advanced and has only a few pictures. 
  • Adventures -- shares the escapades of Andi at 12 years. The writing and storylines are richer.
  • Milestones -- continues with Andi's life as a teenager. These full-length chapter books are nearly twice as long as the other series and are the most advanced of the books.   

Since we received books from Stepping Stones (which are geared toward ages 7-10) and my reading kids are ages 7, 8, and 11, this was the best fit for our family. The books are around 100 pages each and contain 12 short chapters, making them a quick read. The beginning of each one dedicates a couple pages to defining new words that may be confusing to young kids. Vocabulary like alfalfa, conchos, woolgathering, calliope, menagerie, and surrey are listed and given a brief description. The end of each book includes a short 2-3-page history of a relating topic from the story. (Book 1 explains sheep and cattle wars; book 2 describes the circus.)

Andi Saddles Up begins with the celebration of Andi's 9th birthday. She had been hoping for a new special saddle for her horse Taffy since she was finally old enough to be considered a real rider. When her present wasn't where she expected, her was disheartened. She moved from one disappointment to another as she witnessed her brother in a dispute with their neighbor over the boundary line between the two lands. While fighting and sabotage consumed the adults, Andi found her precious saddle, made a new friend in the neighbor girl, and attempted to trick ride against her brother's wishes. It was a fall that resulted in a broken bone that helped the two families resolve their differences.

Andi Under the Big Top is an exciting time as Andi and her friends and family visit the circus. Peanuts, popcorn, a lion tamer, clowns, acrobats, all sorts of animals, and intriguing people all vie for Andi's attention. She meets a boy who ran away from home, a skilled trick rider, trapeze artists, and eventually has her own horse stolen from her barn. She has to fight to retrieve the horse again and learns valuable  lessons in the process.     

There are free activity pages and study guides that accompany each book and can be used as a reading curriculum. The activities cover a wide range of topics, including history, language arts, math, science, Bible, music, art, and more. Each book's activities take 21 days to complete, with an optional lapbook packet bringing the study to 28 days. Not only do the guides include many topic, but they incorporate many different types of exercises, as well: short answer, matching, word search, crossword, maze, poetry encouragement, word pictures, and much more. The guides also briefly expand on topics from the books, like teaching about trout and giving a recipe for dough balls, describing the bones in the arm and showing an x-ray of a broken bone, explaining how and why people used stilts and giving directions to make your own. The study guides are nearly 30 pages a piece and greatly further your learning.     

My kids enjoyed these cute, lesson-filled stories. They are not the style of book that my oldest is drawn to, but he read them for me nonetheless. He's just over the intended age range and read each book in one hour's time. When I asked him what he thought of the books, he nonchalantly replied, "I liked it." He then said he thought they would be best for ages 5-9. My daughter, who is my most avid reader and falls perfectly in the age range, loved both books and eagerly described them to me. The books took her approximately 1 1/2-2 hours to read. My third child falls at the bottom of the range. He's just recently started enjoying lengthy chapter books, so these were more of a challenge for him. Each took about 2 hours for him to read.

The Circle C books are a wholesome collection that would be good for every family. With easy-to-read books all the way through full-length chapter books, there's a fun, Andi story for everyone.

You can connect on the following social media sites:
Kregel Publications: Facebook and Twitter
Susan K. Marlow: Facebook and Twitter

If you'd like to read more reviews of these books, please visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 2/24/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (8½), Zac (7), Tyler (4½), Nicholas (2)

Happy Friday! Did you have a special moment or funny memory from this week? Share it with us so we can Smile with you, too! Here are some of my favorites from this week.

1. Jake, making up his own joke: "What would a judge say if he worked at the drive thru at McDonald's? . . . Order! Order!"

2. Zac: I want at least 5 children--at least. You know why? I want to name them after the (Lego) Nexo Knights."


4. Me: "My skin is so dry. I need some lotion."
Alyssa: "I have some perfumy lotion."
Zac: "I have some spit lotion!"
5. Tyler: "I love it when it's so beautiful outside!"

6. Zac, to Alyssa: "Don't scream like a little girl."
Alyssa: "But I am one."


8. Jake, making up his own joke: "Which composer is most likely to get chicken pox?  . . . Ba-Ba-Bach!"

9. Alyssa, after Nicholas convinced her to play with him when she was trying to do something else: "I don't know how he works his charm."

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 2/10/17

Jake (11), Alyssa (8½), Zac (7), Tyler (4½), Nicholas (2)

This week we set up a surprise for the kiddos. We created a detailed treasure hunt that involved finding puzzles pieces  and assembling it for a hidden message. The surprise ended with checking the calendar where it was written that we are going to Legoland Florida for our vacation this year.  It was so much fun! The first 3 Smiles are quotes that I heard after they figured it out.

1. "I'm shaking with excitement!"

2. "I wish I could do a backflip because I would do 10 of them!"

3. "This is going to be the best vacation ever!"

4. Jake: "Girls wear way more clothes than boys. They wear like 7 layers at a time."

5. Alyssa, running around from Zac and cuddling up next to me: "You can't hurt me! I have a force field!" 

6. Jake's Lego laundry and washing machine creation.

7. Tyler: "Mama, can you get as much energy as you want?"
Me: "Ha, no."
Tyler: "No? Well, when does it stop."
Me: "When you have kids."

8. Alyssa: "It's so much fun having a baby brother!" 

9. The blessing we received from a stranger.

10. The song "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from Frozen was playing in the living room: ". . . It's just you and me, what are we gonna do?"
Jake, popping his head around the hallway corner: "They do know it's you and I, right?"   

What made you Smile this week

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