Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A New Year Cometh

This article originally appeared in the Pitter Patter newsletter of my MOPS group in January 2000.  We were facing a new year, a new decade, a new millennium.  A few things have changed over the the last 11 years, so I have updated a few spots in [brackets] and in color.

It is strange to think that not only were we raised in a different century from our children, but a different millennium. And certainly this is a different “age.”

The age of technology is upon us. My three year old has already mastered her “preschool” computer program. She can click her way through the screens as well as mom. Mom never touched a computer before junior high and then it was the one computer in the whole school for “kid use” – a TRS-80. It worked off of cassette tapes somehow. Sounds like ancient history.  [Okay, so this really is ancient history, my now-teenagers are playing games over the internet with friends in other neighborhoods, took their driving test online, use Google instead of a dictionary or an encyclopedia, and rapidly assimilate new physics apps on the iPad.]

In the “good old days” my brother and I spent Saturday mornings glued to the TV set with such questionable fare as Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Pepe LePew. They [child psychologists and parents] worried at the time about us not understanding why the coyote did not get hurt when he fell into the canyon. My children are not allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons due to violence, bad language, bad attitudes, poor adult role models, and new age doctrines that are not hidden, but openly displayed. And forget regular daytime/ nighttime TV too. The coarse humor, overt sexual relations, and the “selling” of the homosexual lifestyle have made this hobby a thing of the past for my family.  [The main TV show my children have grown up with is Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition which is now about to go off the air!  We were pretty good about keeping TV limited to that one hour a week, with "safe" videos thrown in here and there.  With some new digital TV stations, this year my kids have branched out to Batman (Adam West), Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes.  It has been fun watching them get a kick out of all the oldie goldies.]

School was a safe place for children to go and learn when I was growing up. Our children will find that a laughable statement. A teacher could hug you and love you like a surrogate parent. Now they are afraid to brush against a child for fear of lawsuits.  [This year alone, I have heard of 8 kids hit by cars at their bus stops, 2 bus drivers who went to battle with students on their buses, a bus driver that wouldn't let a parent board, teachers and principal who fell into the pits of pornography, sexual abuse, and cheating with and for their students.  Bullying continues to sky-rocket even with all this "tolerance training."  We opted instead for the last 10 years to homeschool.  Our homeschool isn't perfect:  we are behind in some things.  But, my children know the Lord, they tend toward kind and respectful, and we know each other.]

[I wrote this article BEFORE the events of 9/11...just think of how that one event affected our lives.  Airport security; field trip tours to the dairy, the newspaper, and other interesting places; bag checks at theme parks,  and so much more!]

Doctors used to know you and your family and your history. [Uh, let me know if you can find one of those near me.]  Restaurant and grocery store employees used to be friendly and competent.  [Not to be rude, but if the power goes out, nobody knows what to do.  There is no way for a cashier to tally up your groceries (they are not visibly marked anymore) even if she is able to do the math.  I have noticed with the recent recession that workers are tending to be happier in having a job and working harder to keep them.]

This new society begs the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer, however old-fashioned, is still “By keeping it according to Thy word.” (Psalm 119:9)

How can we best help our children in the New Millennium? By teaching them God’s Word from the Bible and giving them God’s standards for living. Maybe they won’t fit in with their generation. I pray they will not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Trip!!!

We need a long road trip!  That's how I felt when I listened to The World's Greatest Stories as told by George W. Sarris.  We LOVE to listen to CDs while traveling, especially fun and exciting stories!  Mr. Sarris' versions of Daniel in the Lion's Den, Elijah and the Prophets of Baal and all the others really fit the bill.

In reality, you don't need a long road trip to enjoy these stories, although each volume is approximately one hour long, most are generally broken into five stories so you can start and stop in ten to fifteen minute increments.  The BEST thing about these stories is that they are word-for-word from the Bible!  You can get King James (my choice) or NIV versions.  The NEXT BEST thing is that Mr. Sarris uses a wide variety of voices (his own) and sound effects that help grab your attention and keep it.  As your child listens, they aren't getting a watered down or fictionalized version of the Bible -- they are chewing on the real Word.  If you listen over and over, I'm sure you and your child would soon have many parts, or even whole stories memorized.  Currently, there are 6 volumes of is what you can get for only $7.95/each volume.

Volume 1 = The Prophets
The Blazing Furnace
The Handwriting on the Wall
Daniel in the Lion's Den
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
The Prophecy of Jonah

Volume 2 = The Life of Christ
the Real Story of Christmas
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus
The Healing of the Blind Man
Things Jesus Said and Did
The Real Story of Easter

Volume 3 = Beginnings
In the Beginning
A Lame Man in Lystra
A Jailer in Philippi
The Story of Ruth
The Raising of Lazarus

Volume 4 = Joshua & Esther
The Battle of Jericho
The Book of Esther

Volume 5 = Joseph & His Brothers

Volume 6 = Defeating Giants
David & Goliath
Namaan the Leper
Micaiah the Prophet & Josephat the King
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Gideon & His 300 Men

There is also a series of CD messages on homeschooling dads, dating, impacting our culture, and more for only $4.95/each.  You can find those here.

The narrator, George W. Sarris has some pretty impressive credentials.  He has worked commercially in New York as the principal spokesman for radio and TV commercials for Burger King, Duracell, Pizza Hut, Sprint, UPS, Honda and others.  He has a Bachelor of Science in Speech and a Master of Divinity.  He has served on the staff of the Mass Media Ministry of Campus Crusade.
These stories are aimed at ages 4 and up, and I think would be enjoyed by everyone!  I have teens, so they smirked a little at first, but later I overhead them quoting bits of the story back and trying to imitate the voices!

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was provided the World's Greatest Stories:  the Prophets, Volume 1, KJV version, plus a Sampler CD free of charge in exchange for an honest review.   For more TOS reviews of this and other products, click here.  I hope you will check out this series of stories and invest in them for your family.  Truly one fun way to meditate on God's Word!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Flinging Fun & History!

From Alexander the Great, to World War II, to current-day "Punkin Chunkin" contests, catapults have been favorite weapons of war and tools for fun for a loooong time!  Pitsco brings catapults and trebuchet siege machines into your home and classroom as a history lesson, a science lesson, and an all-round fun time!

When the Pitsco box arrived, my then-12-year-old son took over with glee.  He opened the package to find a booklet telling him all about the history, "science, technology, engineering, and math of medieval siege machines."  After an introduction into the history and safety in the use of the catapult, the 32-page booklet covers topics like tension and torsion, mass vs. distance, metric conversion, calculating averages, elasticity, experimenting with rubber bands, gravity and levers, prediction (math), force & motion, and more.  For several experiments, there are charts to fill in for scientific testing.

Okay, so being a boy, and mostly kinesthetic at that, the book was soon pushed aside a bit and my son began to build the thing!  He found the catapult to be easier than the trebuchet.  The instructions and pictures for the trebuchet were harder to understand.  But, with some help from Dad and a bit of perseverance, both weapons of mass destruction were together within hours (spread over a couple of days).  The siege machines really work and my son was soon pelting clay missiles at things and having a grand time.  Soon, we will be going back through the book and filling in the head knowledge more completely.

This kit would be a great accompaniment to your medieval (or other history) lessons.  You end up with sturdy, usable weapons/toys and a sense of accomplishment from self-building.  The lessons are based on the standards of the National Science Teachers Association, International Technology Education Association, and National Council of Teachers of Math.  This kit is aimed at grades 5 through 12.

You can see what the catapults and trebuchets look like here.  But, Pitsco offers many other curricula and products you might enjoy...If you want to encourage a budding engineer, architect, scientist or math whiz, be sure to check out their other offerings on their website store.

The catapult and trebuchet go for $10.95/each and the Siege Machines book is another $3.95.  You do want the book!  If you are hosting a co-op, you can get reduced prices for groups of 10 ($8.39) or 30 ($7.67).  Or you can get a package deal with the catapult, trebuchet and Siege Machines book for $21.95 which includes the weights for flinging!

If you really want to go indepth, Pitsco also carries a more expensive package that includes all of the above, as well as two in depth teachers/curriculum guides that provide another 20+ hours of teaching materials for each kit.

I was provided the Catapult and Trebuchet kits, plus the Siege Machines book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  I honestly think your hands-on, science-types will love them!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shameless Plug

After working almost 30 years in the space program, my husband has landed a great new job at home.  He has incorporated as Digital Worship, LLC.  His vision is to design apps for Apple and other hand-held devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android) that are helpful in the Christian and homeschool and education markets.  

This week, his first app appeared in the Apple store!  Dad's Prayers is designed to encourage parents to pray for their children.  Paul has compiled a bunch of sample prayers taken from his own prayer-life, backed up with scripture.  You can use them as a skeleton on which to build your own prayers for your own children.  

This is a FREE app, intended as the first-fruits offering of Digital Worship.  If you have an Apple hand-held device, we hope that you will download a copy today and also share with as many parent-friends you may have!  You can find all the information here.

We'd love to hear back if you find this a useful tool or if you have suggestions.  And, hopefully, soon we'll have more and different types of apps to share with you!

In My Lifetime...

Men started letting women open doors for them.
Men stopped offering chairs to women.
Women began cussing, without making excuses for it.
Women started wearing short skirts and decolletage shirts and considered it "business attire."
The word "gay" stopped meaning "happy."
Men started kissing men and women started kissing women on TV.
Our President declared that America wasn't a Christian nation.
Our currency lost its gold backing.

Jesus may return.

"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.  Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.  Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.  2 Peter 3:9-14

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One bite at a time!

Maria Miller breaks math down into edible bite-size pieces in her Math Mammoth series.  I had the opportunity to review the Multiplication 1 e-book and I loved it!  My son is well past the age of multiplication -- well, he is supposed to be.  But, there are a few facts that keep eluding him.  So, I thought this would be a great chance to review and rebuild some concepts that he must have missed.

The Multiplication 1 book is broken into 2 parts.  The Multiplication Concept covers the meaning of multiplication (Many Times the Same Group), the relationship between Multiplication and Addition, Multiplication as an Array and on a Number Line.  Ms. Miller uses various types of exercises to repeat the same thing, so your child can SEE what multiplication is.  They see it, draw it, hear it, etc.  The book was laid out nicely for independent work.

The second part concerns Memorizing the Tables.  She gives great instruction in how to give oral drills.  She takes the tables not in numerical order, but in order of simplicity so that the child builds memory with ease and repetition.  You can see Maria Miller explaining multiplication algorithms on video here.   She also explains her structured drill practice on video here.  There are lots of other videos you may wish to check out.

We are still finishing up Part One of this book, but I have already seen my son's comprehension and speed pick up while doing his other math work.  I am super-pleased with Math Mammoth and would recommend it highly.  Ms. Miller offers lots of other math curriculum from kindergarten thru Algebra 1.  Besides complete curriculum, she also sells math by topic (just clocks, just geometry, or just word problems, etc.).

These books are not expensive.  Maria Miller explains:
"I've always (since 2003) wanted to offer materials at affordable prices. For example, the complete curriculum products cost $32 a grade (download).  But if you are REALLY having to watch every dollar, check into the Blue Series books - the electronic versions cost between $2 and $7.00 apiece!"
Ms. Miller gives a great list of helpful resources on the Internet which you can use to supplement your math work.  I just noticed also that this e-book is now available for annotation, meaning you can have your child fill in the pages on the computer, rather than printing!

I was provided this e-book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  I honestly recommend it to you!  You can see more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of Math Mammoth here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vocabulary Facilitation (Vocab Made Easy!)

To prepare for an AP English class, I was assigned a vocabulary book to complete during the summer before my senior year of high school (many, many, oh so many years ago).  To my knowledge, I am the only dork who actually completed the assignment!  But, actually, I enjoyed doing the lessons and playing with the words.  For one chapter, I recall writing a poem about a fairy who "liked all things incendiary," as a way to help me remember what I was learning.  Josh and Judah Burk, of  College-Prep Genius fame, have taken my little idea and run with it.  They have written whole novels around their SAT vocabulary lists!

Josh explains:
"When I was a student (preparing for the awful SATs), I did a lot of reading to improve my vocabulary.  I learned a lot of great words through the process of looking up every unfamiliar word, but it was often extremely tedious.  Some of the best books had me pulling out the dictionary several times a sentence!  This often sucked the fun out of reading and made learning vocabulary a chore.  The VocabCafé Book Series tries to remedy this by keeping the power of learning through context while relieving the annoyance of dictionary interruptions!"
You may know that the Burks earned full ride scholarships based on their SAT scores and all the many hours of practice they put in on them.  So, their advice about learning vocabulary is definitely of great value!

So far, the VocabCafé series holds four books:

  1. Planet Exile (science fiction)
  2. The Summer of Saint Nick ("realistic" fiction)
  3. I.M. for Murder (murder mystery adventure) and 
  4. Operation Highschool (spy adventure)
The first three were written by Josh Burk and the last one by Judah Burk.  Two more are planned for release later this year.  Though the vocab review idea is a series, the books are not a series in the sense of sharing characters or events.  Each novel stands alone and they are all quite different.  You can find descriptions of each plot here.

On the positive side:

In general, the main characters are nice kids, they love their parents and try to do good.  Though not overtly Christian, characters mention God, say grace, and go to church.  There is a lesson or several lessons that are well-stated and embedded within each novel.  
The interaction between the main characters in I.M. for Murder is well done.  I love the description of the game the boys play when they throw all the patio furniture into the pool and then go searching for "buried treasure."  The author really captured how spirited boys play and while I, as a woman/mom, would fear for their safety, I still could appreciate that that is how it is!  
Obviously, the biggest selling point about these books is that they expose your child to new vocabulary words.  At first, it is a bit shocking to encounter "plebiscite" in the middle of a regular sentence (kind of like Spanglish), but that is probably a good thing because it draws your attention.  The words are bolded and italicized and their definitions are on the bottom of the page where they are found, like I have done with a few words in green on this blog page.  At the end of each chapter, there is a summary page of the words to review for that chapter.  There is also a glossary in the back of the book, listing all 300+ words and their definitions.  
On the negative side:

Often consequences do not follow actions.  Teens lie, sneak out of their houses in the middle of the night,  pull pranks, and commit arson without being caught.  Even good behavior, like giving away over $200,000 to charity, is not really rewarded.  Although this is very realistic in the sense that we aren't always caught or rewarded (here on earth), it gives the reader a sense of loose ends.

Though there were no swear words, some of the slang used was a little too hip for me.  "Freaking" is used as an adjective (the origin of that word is a euphemism for something I consider to be a swear word) and there is a "screw that."  But, those occurrences are rare and that is pretty realistic for how kids talk today, so that is up to your personal preference.  The back cover of Summer of Saint Nick mentions "the hottest girl in school," but the insides of the book do not reflect that kind of language or attitude towards girls.

Some of the teen activities give me, as a parent, the willies.  In Operation High School, the front cover and the first chapter had me wondering if this book was going to be about the occult (late at night, circle of candles, blindfolded, etc.).  Although that fear was unfounded, there were hazing type activities (tying up a  blindfolded girl and leaving her alone out in the woods to find her way to a mysterious location) that I hope will never be imitated by readers.  I liked, in I.M. for Murder, that the teens would discuss the fact that they were "stepping over a moral boundary" before they did it, at least giving the reader the knowledge that this was wrong.  However, part of what they were doing wrong was using the internet to lure a pedophile/murderer into the open -- a dangerous game, to say the least.

At times, the omniscience of the 3rd person narrator is jarring.  For the first half the book, you have been in the head of the main character, but suddenly, and without warning, you jump into someone else's head and know all his thoughts and motivations.  

There are slight editing issues in several of the books that aren't too troubling.  But, Operation High School has a plethora of errors that will set an English teacher's, and maybe even your student's, teeth on edge.
Some of the themes are definitely better reserved for older teens and adults.  There is a situation (already referred to) with a pedophile/murderer, some violence, decapitation of a cat, dating/kissing (very mild), and the like.  I like that Josh Burk is up front with this stuff.  He says:
"***A WORD ABOUT CONTENT – These books were written with an intended audience of high school teenagers, although many parents find them appropriate for their middle school or younger students.  As a family-based company, our goal is to make a quality product that can be enjoyed by everyone.  Thus, these stories contain no magic, sorcery, swear words, illicit situations, nor do they encourage negative behaviors.  However, we recommend that parents should read every book that they give their children (not just ours) to make sure the messages coincide with their beliefs and standards.  The VocabCafé Book Series does contain boy-girl relationships (non-sexual), mild violence, and mature thematic elements."
I did not have a problem with my daughter reading this series, but told her to use her best judgement as she went along (she read them first).  She opted to skim I.M. for Murder and to skip Operation High School.  She was more comfortable with the other two books which seemed aimed at a younger audience.  In fact, I would say there is a big separation between the books.  I think Planet Exile and The Summer of Saint Nick are fine reading for middle-schoolers, but I would be leery of I.M. For Murder and Operation High School until late high school -- and I would definitely suggest you read them first to make sure you find them acceptable for your family.

The authors are good writers, but they are also young neophytes.  I can see real improvement in their writing as the books progress, so given the chance, I think they will continue to get better.

The VocabCafé books sell individually for $12.95 or as a set of 4 for $28.85.  College-Prep Genius offers many other ways to prepare for SAT testing, including prep classes, workbooks and DVDs.

Dork /dork/ N - social misfit; geek
Vocabulary /vō-kab-yə-lerē/ N - body of words
Positive /päz-ə-tiv/ N - good quality

Hazing /ha-zing/ V - force to perform strenuous, humiliating, or dangerous tasks
Plethora /ple-thərə/ N - an excess of

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this series of 4 books free in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS reviews, click here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Have a Minute?

This article originally appeared in the Pitter Patter newsletter of my MOPS group, oh many years ago.  It made me stop and think all over again!  I have updated a few things to make it timely.

I got caught at the last ladies’ meeting here at church.  The Pastor's wife was speaking and she asked everyone to close their eyes for a minute just to think about Jesus and concentrate on Him.  So, I bowed my head and closed my eyes and I prayed a prayer of thanks for Christ saving me and giving me everything I have.

Then I started listing off in my head all the things I needed to do later in the day.  Then I looked over at the lunch buffet to see what we’d be eating later.  Then I wondered about who the next speaker was going to be.  Then I thought, okay, I’m ready to move on, here.  And then Alice said, “Okay, that was ONE minute.”

It really cut me to the heart.  I had been racing so fast in my mind that I thought at least 10 or 15 minutes had passed.  I did not have ONE minute to spare for Christ – the one whom I supposedly have given my life to.  Not one minute.

I tell you what.  The next few weeks may be extremely busy – Thanksgiving, birthday parties, Christmas parties, and getting ready for the much time will I stop to meditate on God’s Word?  How much time will I reflect on God’s goodness?  How much time will I spend in prayer?  How much time will I devote solely to Jesus?  How about you?

Can we take ONE minute to think about God’s greatest gift to us?  In this moment of silence, thank Him for sending His Son, Jesus Christ to save us in order to give us a relationship with God.  It is offered to us so freely -- if we only take the time to receive it.  If you haven’t received it yet, you could use this minute to ask God to reveal Himself to you.  He will.  He is waiting for you, to show you how much He loves you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dead or Alive?

"Latin is not dead, it's immortal!"

These words are found in the introduction of Memoria Press' First Form Latin by Cheryl Lowe.  Ms. Lowe continues:

"It is the most fruitful language in human history.  It is the mother of the five Romance languages, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian.  More than half of English words come from Latin.  It is the language of the classification system for plants and animals.  All of the modern sciences, from psychology to physics, derive most of their specialized vocabularies from Latin.  It is the language of law and theology.  When you learn Latin words you will be preparing yourself for almost any field of study you can imagine.  Even the word computer comes from the Latin word for I think, compute, computo" (page 3, Student Text).
First Form Latin (grades 5-12) is designed to follow Latina Christiana (grades 3-6) and I think that if we had started with the foundation of that earlier program, First Form might not have appeared so intimidating.  As it was, I was graciously provided with 7 items:

  • Teacher's Manual
  • Teacher's Manual Workbook & Test Key
  • Quizzes & Tests Book
  • Student Textbook
  • Student Workbook
  • Flashcards
  • and Instructional DVDs.
Juggling all of these resources was a bit of a struggle for me.  Where to begin?  Especially considering I only know 3 Latin phrases:

  • cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am)
  • veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
  • and cave canum (beware of dog).
My daughter knows much more, so she let me know that First Form uses the ecclesiastical pronunciation rather than the classical pronunciation that she is used to.  The differences are minor in my opinion, but she felt it was awkward to switch over.  I liked that Cheryl Lowe states:  "A fastidious concern about pronunciation is an impediment to learning a language.  Those who will plunge in and speak a modern language learn much more quickly than those who are self-conscious about pronunciation."

We watched the first few lessons on the DVD and found Glen Moore to have a straight-forward, yet sometimes dryly humorous teaching style.  He tries to compact a lot into one lesson which, if you haven't studied a lot of grammar before-hand, could be overwhelming.

First Form is definitely designed with the classroom in mind.  I think it would work great in a homeschool co-op setting, and that is what is recommended by the author.  It can, of course, be adapted for family use, but probably not as well for independent study.  The DVD instruction by Glen Moore is a great idea as it takes some of the burden off Mom.

Completion of First Form Latin is the equivalent of a full-year high school course.  The 34 lessons are nicely laid out.  "A full week's schedule consists of 5 parts:

A) Lesson
B) Workbook
C) Oral Drill
D) Quiz or Test
E) (Optional) Lingua Angelica and/or Famous Men of Rome or other Memoria Press history resources" (page vii, Teacher's Manual).

Each lesson begins with an opening, recitation and review, followed by a Latin saying, vocabulary, grammar "chalk talks" and explanations.

Instructions are scripted for the teacher and sample lesson plans are provided.  Helps (For Your Information) are provided for the teacher/mom, like me, who does not have a Latin background.  For instance, in the opening of the first unit, the idea of voice and mood are explained.

All in all, I think the program is beautifully designed for (again) classroom use.  If you have a few (or a lot of) students you can gather for instruction, then you would find your efforts greatly facilitated with these resources.  However, if you intend only having your one or two children tackle a program, and you don't have prior Latin experience, I'd probably look elsewhere.  If your children are young enough to begin with Latina Christiana (grades 3-6) or even Prima Latina (grades 1-4), then I would highly suggest those programs as preparation for this program later.

The First Form Latin Set (Student Text & Workbook, Teacher Manuals, Quizzes and Tests, and Pronunciation CD) sells for $55.00.  The pieces can be bought individually as well.  You can get the First Form Latin Set plus the DVDs and Flashcards for $115.00.

Memoria Press offers a lot of other homeschool resources including helps for Latin, Greek, French, Literature Guides and more.  You probably have guessed that their materials are geared toward a Classical education (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric).  You can find more about them and what they have to offer here.

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this set of materials  free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS reviews, click here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Peanut Man

"It is not the style of clothes one wears,
neither the kind of automobile one drives,
nor the amount of money one has in the bank that counts. 
These mean nothing.  It is simply service that measures success." 
-- George Washington Carver

By his own definition, and mine, George Washington Carver was a man of huge success.  Freed from slavery as a young child, he worked diligently to free his people from ignorance and poverty.  His achievements during the Reconstruction period are amazing.  He was the first black man to study at Iowa State, earning a Master's degree in Botany.  Later, he gave up a lucrative teaching post there to work for Booker T. Washington at Tuskeegee Institute.  There he worked with students and farmers to improve soil and crop conditions.  He taught the importance of rotating crops.  And, after the boll weevil had its way, he helped in the propagation of peanuts and another plants that would become their own industry.  As a naturalist, Carver recognized and gave God glory for all that he saw.  He spent his time working and pulling up his brothers, rather than in fighting or despising the white man that put them down.

George Washington Carver -- His Life and Work is a thought-provoking DVD published by Marshall Publishing & Promotions, Inc.  It has a slow, relaxed feel to it.  It opens with beautiful views of nature, plants and animals, and quotes from Carver about God's creation.  The slow pace continues as a very southern voice narrates his life story and accomplishments.  The peaceful pace remains as we see still photos and a few live recordings of Carver.

The video is aimed at children 4th grade and above.  My middle and high schooler found it a bit tame, and would have preferred more drama and his life acted out.  But, I appreciated the continual references to Carver's knowledge of God and the wonders of His creation and felt that the information we learned was valuable and meaningful.  The video is only 30 minutes long, so there isn't too much time for boredom to set in from the pacing.

There was one comment troubling to a young-earth creationist like me (Carver says "millions and millions of years"), but other than that, evolution is flatly negated ("it couldn't have happened by accident").

Marshall Publishing has several educational DVDs available, including The History of the Mississippi River, Lincoln at Gettysburg, The Oregon Trail & The Pony Express.  Videos sell for $24.95 if you want full public performing rights and $19.95 for individual use.  If you decide to buy this video due to reading this review, you can use the coupon code TOSC1 at checkout to save an additional 15% -- that makes the DVD only $16.95!   On the same site, you can find other fun and educational DVDs, books, and audio CDs.  Be sure to check out what they have to offer!

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this DVD free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS reviews, click here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Doesn't Taste Better with Ketchup?

Uh, let's see:  mashed potatoes, burritos, or rats?
What would be the grossest thing to kiss?  A moose, an octopus?  Anything!
What's the most annoying thing about being a kid?  Not enough candy!

These were just a few of the questions we giggled over as we scribbled out possible answers during the game Say Anything:  Family Edition by Northstar Games.  Before we finished the first round out of two, my son was already begging that we extend into 3rds or 4ths. 

This game reminds us of Apples to Apples, but with several twists.  The judge chooses a question from a stack of cards and reads it aloud.  The other players write down their answers on their own personal little white-boards with little wipe-off markers.  Your answer can be serious or silly, whatever you think will appeal to the judge (silly usually wins in our family).  The judge uses a little turn dial (like a handheld spinner) with a high-tech sounding name -- the Select-o-matic 6000 -- to choose a winner.  He places his choice face down.  Everyone then tries to guess what the judge picked and place little markers on their favorites to win.  If you guess the same as the judge, you win a point or two.  If you wrote the winning answer, you get a point.  Even if you are the judge, you can win points if other people made good guesses.   The scorekeeper uses a larger wipe-off board to tally points and the judge-ship moves to the left.  The game is over after everyone has been the judge two times, so you can keep playtime short if that is your goal.

The score-board, wipe-off boards, select-o-matic, and even the questions are nice and sturdy and should last a good while as long as you remember to wipe off the answers before the ink sinks in (like any white board).   It is conceivable that, in time, you would have to replace the markers just because that is the nature of markers.

As for the questions, they range in seriousness to silliness, but everything appeared G-Rated.  There were only 3 references I didn't think my kids would get (Taylor Swift, The Simpsons, and Halloween candy), and since you have a choice of 3 questions per card, you never have to ask those if you don't want to.  This game is designated for 3 to 6 players, ages 8+.  My 12- and 14-year-olds enjoyed it, as well as my husband and I did.  Everyone agreed that this was a keeper, in fact we'll be taking it over to Grandma's house tomorrow to play again! 

This game sells for $14.99 at Amazon if you'd like to pick one up for your next family game night or even for a party!  You can see my review of another of North Star Games' fun products, Wits and Wagers, here.

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this game free in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS reviews, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Does Anything Last?

The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8 

Every thing we see around us is seasonal and temporal. That includes our trials and tribulations, our triumphs and jubilations. All of it will pass away. Some things pass quickly. The fight you had yesterday with your husband is almost forgotten. The pain you had in childbirth barely recalled. The big plans you laid in your teens and twenties? What were they?

We have changed. Our hopes, our dreams, our bodies. We do not look, feel or act the same as we always did. And our circumstances change around us: our friends, our dwelling place, our day to day employment.

But, there are other things that never change. The glory and compassion of God. The importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The names written in the Lamb's Book of Life.  I am so glad I can count on God's Word to remain the same.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is,through the living and enduring word of God.

And this is the word which was preached to you.
1 Peter 1:22-26

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Like Wits & Wagers? You bet!

We had a lot of fun testing out the Wits & Wagers Family game by North Star Games.  Choosing from the stack, the first question is read aloud.  Everyone whips out their trusty little wipe-off boards and pens and quickly writes a guess.  The guesses are then placed in number order on the table, or floor, or wherever you happen to be playing.  Then you decide whether you like your answer best, or someone else's.  You have two "Meeples" playing pieces, one large (2 pt) and one small (1 pt), and you use them to "wager" on the correct answer.  You can place both on your own answer, one on yours and one on some else's, or both on other people's cards.  There is always a "1" card available if you think everyone's answers are too high.  When the answer is read, points are scored for the winning guess that is closest to the correct answer without going over, and for any Meeples placed on that card.  The wagering aspect makes it easier for the younger players to get points, since they don't have to think of the correct answer themselves.

Since every question involves a number or statistic of some sort, there is a lot of estimating going on (unless you just happen to know the correct answer -- and, mostly, you won't).  For example:

*In feet, how wide is a regulation soccer goal? 
*What percent of Girl Scout cookies sold are Thin Mints? 
*On average, how many hours per day does a wild sloth sleep? 

Each number answer is accompanied by an interesting, and sometimes silly, fact.  The first player to reach 15 points wins, so the game doesn't last super-long unless you decide to go into extra innings just for the fun of it.

There were only a handful of references that my children wouldn't know (i.e., The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) or that we would not appreciate (i.e., Harry Potter), but these are easily dealt with by skipping the question, blotting it out, throwing it away, or setting it on fire, depending on your level of enthusiasm about it.

The instructions are simple and clear and the wipe-off boards, Meeples and question cards are both colorful and engaging for the prescribed ages 8+.  You can play 3 to 5 individuals at a time, or break a larger group into teams, so this is a great game for a family night or a fun party.  North Star Games also sells a "Party" version of this game.

Wits & Wagers Family sells for about $15.00 at Amazon.  This coming Friday afternoon, you can check out my review of another of North Star Games' fun products, Say Anything, here.

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this game free in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS Crew reviews, click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Homeschooling Resource "Must-Have"

So, where was this book nine years ago, when I started homeschooling?

Educating the WholeHearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson of Whole Heart Ministries, has actually been around since 1994, before my children were even born, but this is the first time it has been in my hands.  I wish I had owned it back then.  The 3rd edition, published earlier this year, is a treasure-trove of almost everything you could need to know about homeschooling.

The Clarksons begin with the assumption that you believe homeschooling is a good idea, but they give you plenty of reasons to re-examine your heart on the issue.  They want you to start with the basic foundation and conviction that homeschooling is part of God's plan for home and family:
"The home is the only institution designed and provided by God in scripture for training children" (pg. 13).
They examine the purposes for homeschooling and boil their vision down to this:
"Our vision is to help you keep faith in your family" (pg. 16).
This nearly 400-page resource is broken down into four major sections:  home, learning, methods, and living.  The writing is clear and concise, so you can skim through or dive right in to any section or chapter without feeling lost.

I can't stress enough how much information is here.  The Clarksons help define goals and solidify your reasons for homeschooling.  They back everything up with pertinent scriptures, studies, quotes, and personal experience on the margins of every page.

One of my favorite parts is about knowing "What to Do when Cornered by a Critic:" 
"Always remember that these vocal adversaries of homeschooling are not neutral.  You can generally assume their criticisms have been cooking for some time, and you just happen to be the one who gets to taste what's in their mental oven.  You don't have to swallow their arguments, but don't throw them back in their face either.  Your 'gentle answer' may help convert a critic into an inquirer and maybe even a friend" (pg. 31).
They go on to give you valid ideas for how to answer: 

  • the Legislation Question,
  • the Education Question,
  • the Socialization Question,
  • the Qualification Question, and 
  • the Reputation Question (Section 1, chapter 2).

One of the main topics of this book is discipleship, how to birth and nurture your child's relationship with God.
"There is always the temptation to reduce discipleship to a program, a project, a course of study or a set of rules.  This may be especially true in a curriculum-driven homeschooling community.  The danger when that happens is not about doing something biblically wrong, but about missing the biblical dynamic and fulfillment of home discipleship as it could be -- the influence of personal relationships, the leading and power of the Holy Spirit, and the joy of the journey exploring God's path of life together" (pg. 58).
In the Methods section, the advice becomes even more practical, giving specific ideas for how to teach reading, history, geography, fine arts, science, foreign language, and other subjects.  The over-arching premise is a whole-book approach to learning, eschewing textbooks for biographies and other "living books."

Other interesting chapters deal very effectively with personality types and learning styles, testing vs. not testing, family roles, celebrating holidays, structure and order in the home, and support groups.  There are a plethora of useful forms and reading lists.

If you are new to homeschooling, I would recommend this book as a "must-have."  If you've been around a while, I think it could help get you rejuvenated or restructured.  I was definitely reminded of many things I meant to do and I now have a list of things to do and think about, including:
  1. Record Holly reading so she can hear how she sounds when she reads to fast or too low.
  2. Plan to take a family missions trip.
  3. Think about early graduation into independent study and employment.
  4. Write Night (everybody writes a story).
  5. Ask "real questions" (i.e., why do we homeschool? or why must I be saved?) and have kids research biblical and extra-biblical sources for a written response.
  6. Set up a more permanent learning space.
  7. Hold a "project day" and allow kids to work on things that interest them.
I only took exception to one line in the book.  The Clarksons do not advocate spanking (pg. 67), but they present their ideas, with a lot of grace for those who disagree (like me), so I'll extend grace to them as well.

Educating the WholeHearted Child is published by Apologia/WholeHeart.  If you haven't heard of Apologia by now, you must be very new to homeschooling!  I am most familiar with their Exploring Creation science curriculum by Jeannie Fulbright (elementary) and Jay Wile (upper levels).  They also offer online courses in science, apologetics and worldview.  You can find this book on their website for the regular price of $22.00 (but it appears to be on sale for $20.00 at the moment).

Though this book is intended for parents of children ages 4 to 14, I think there is plenty of meat, especially in the first 2 sections, even for high-schooling families.  In fact, I'd even consider assigning my high-schooler to read a few sections to learn the hows and whys of homeschooling for the future instruction of her own children.

This is one of those books that deserves the title "Resource" and that you will want to read and review, at least in sections, over and over again.

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was provided this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  For more TOS Crew reviews, click here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Redeem the Time

This year, I find myself chauffeuring my kids to outside events more than ever.  I was finding myself with a lot of wasted time on my hands.  I would get the kids out the door, drive them where they needed to be, and then ask, "Now, what am I going to do?"  There are five hours of dance, two and a half hours of sports club activities, and another hour of piano lessons where I was just sitting, doing nothing, or worse, looking for treats in the food or shopping line to pacify myself.  I had to do something else.  So, I compiled a list:

What I Can Do While the Kids are Involved in Sports/Music/Other Activities

  • Quiet Time - I can read my Bible and pray (duh!)
  • TOS Reviews - I can keep up with my blog and review schedule by reading assigned works and jotting down notes
  • Write - I can write stories for my kids (if I get the inspiration) and I can write letters/e-mails to friends/family
  • Mpact Girls - I can pray for my teen class and prepare the lesson for the week
  • Read - I can read for fun or information
  • Plan - I can plan for literature or other subjects that take a little time
  • Visit - I have a couple of friends nearby the locations where I am waiting; I could pop over
  • Run Errands - I can go to the bank, the library, or the store
  • Walk - I can walk (or even swim at the rec center) for exercise, fresh air, and enjoying Creation

Just giving purpose to these alone-times has improved my attitude and productivity tremendously.  Now, I get myself prepared before we leave the house.  I grab pertinent books, writing materials, lists, etc.  I even try to remember to take a healthy snack along so I am not tempted by nearby McDonalds or Slurpee stores.
See then that you walk carefully, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:15-16