Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Schoolhouse Crew Review: Jim Hodges Productions

We love audiobooks. I have one daughter who's an auditory learner, meaning she learns much better by listening than by reading things herself, another daughter who's pre-reading, and my 3rd daughter is equally happy to read or be read to. So, overall, read alouds work better than independent reading. And to save my voice, and sanity, whenever possible, we look for audiobooks, especially for longer books. A few years ago, I happened to pick up several audibooks from Jim Hodges Productions and we have loved them, and sometimes bemoaned the fact that we can't find as good a quality audiobook for other books we read. So, when we were given the opportunity to choose from an extensive list of Jim's recordings for a review, the only hard part was deciding which one we wanted to review. Since we already had several of his recordings, that narrowed down our list, so we finally settled on A March on London.

We received this audiobook in the form of an mp3 CD. This means that, while it is a physical CD, it was recorded in mp3 format, so it won't play on a regular CD player that doesn't support mp3 format. This format does, however, play on most computers. I downloaded the story off the CD onto my computer and we listened to it from my computer at bedtime. These files can also be copied onto an mp3 player and used like you would use any downloaded mp3 files. We also received the Study Guide in PDF Format to go along with our audiobook. The mp3 CD audiobook is available for $25 and the study guide is available for $12.

All of the audio books offered to the Schoolhouse Review Crew during this review were G.A. Henty's novels. George A Henty was an English novelist in the 1800s. He wrote many adventure novels set in various historic times. As is often the case with older books, these novels are long and include some complex plots and vocabulary, making these audiobooks best suited for children ages 10 and up.

Set in 1381, A March on London tells the story of Wat Tyler and the Peasant Rebellion through the eyes of a young knight. 

We are currently studying the early Middle Ages for history and haven't yet reached the 1300s. However, we happened to already have the novels that more closely lined up with what we are currently learning about, as well as the stories based in ancient times. So we chose to jump forward in time a few hundred years. Because this story didn't line up nicely with what we are currently learning about, we chose to use it as a bedtime read aloud. We all enjoyed this story and found it easy to follow the storyline even though none of us have any knowledge of the historic events presented in the story.

In general, I wanted our main focus to be enjoying the story and learning from it, not "dissecting" it too thoroughly, especially since we haven't studied this time period yet. With this in mind, I chose to use the study guide as a jumping off point for discussion together, and not for independent work. This is a very thorough and challenging study guide (here is a sample of one of the other study guides, to give you a better idea of what the study guides include).  Because of the challenging vocabulary of these books, the vocabulary in the study guide includes many words that aren't typically used in normal conversation. We found it challenging, even working together, to define the words out of context, even though my daughters rarely have to ask me what words mean while listening to the stories.

The questions and projects in the study guide are not simply reading comprehension questions, but rather require a good knowledge of the historic period that story is set in. We used it as a way to discuss together some highlights from that time period, but did not dig in and try to answer the questions as thoroughly as we would have if we were using this as our main history lessons. The project assignments were mostly research and writing assignments which again, we chose not to attempt to do, in depth, when it isn't our main history focus. One project that both girls, but especially my artist, enjoyed was learning about women's fashions in the 1300s. The study guide included links to look at to learn more about fashions of that time period and, after looking them over, they drew their own pictures of some of the fashions of the 1300s.

While we didn't fully utilize the study guide at this time, I was very impressed with how comprehensive it is. I can see it being a good way to turn the book into a comprehensive unit study of the period studies, or using it near the end of your studies of the time period to make sure you have learned all about it. I do think, for elementary and middle school students, it would be over kill to do all of the projects listed, I think we may use this study and re-listen to the story when we get to that time period in our history studies, but I will encourage the girls to choose one project per week, rather than trying to do all of them. These study guides seem most appropriate for middle school and high school students.

The audiobooks themselves are best for ages 10 and up. We listened to our first audiobook of a G. A. Henty novel, With Lee in Virginia, when Ashlyn and Lexie were 9 1/2. They enjoyed it, but I don't think we could have gone much younger, and I think it was more enjoyable for them because we had spent the past several months learning about the Civil War, so they were very familiar with the historic events mentioned in the book. More recently we've listened to several more of these audiobooks during our studies of ancient history and the early middle ages and they have enjoyed them all.

I would recommend these audiobooks as a wonderful addition to any living books history study for children ages 10 and over (and living books are by far my favorite way of learning, and teaching, history, so I tend to recommend that approach often). The study guide, I would recommend for older children, and only if you plan to spend significant time on the story/study, you will not be able to rush through this study guide!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up for the Week of Oct 19

Wow! As I sit down to write about our past week, I realize . . . NO WONDER I'm exhausted, what a busy week!

Monday we went to my parents' house to celebrate my grandma's 97th birthday and spend time with cousins. Lexie and Ashlyn had great fun "mothering" my cousin's 3 yr old and 1 yr old :) 

Making birthday cards for Grandma
They especially enjoyed getting to help with bedtime. They helped with baths, Ashlyn was very excited to give the baby her bottle, And Lexie read a bedtime story to Little Bit and C (3 yr old).

Tuesday was the actual birthday celebration. The kids all made a huge birthday banner to hang in the dining room.  As a part of the hanging process, Little Bit also mastered climbing up onto the loft. She's been climbing the footholds in the carpeted wall since she could walk, but this trip she figured out how to climb up over the top onto the loft itself and, thankfully, also how to get back onto the wall to climb down. Needless to say she was very proud of herself and spent a good part of the day climbing up and down :) 

I think probably Grandma's favorite part of the day was just watching the chaos that is 5 great-granddaughters running around.  As her health has declined she's seemed to kind of "zone out" a lot of the time and not enjoy people and activity like she used to, so it was wonderful to see her smiling and laughing at the antics of the little girls playing with balloons and generally being cute little girls.

Helping Grandma open presents

Another project that day was making, and decorating cupcakes. I wasn't close enough to get a picture but I hear Grandma even got to lick one of the beaters (Little Bit got the other one, there are advantages to being "little" but not little enough to nap) the big girls had a blast decorating the cupcakes with a fall theme and arranging them on a platter in the shape of a 97. 

Ashlyn lit the candles for Grandma's birthday cupcakes.

Helping Grandma blow out the candles.
Wednesday morning we said goodbye to the cousins then went to the orchard to stock up on apples before heading home. We recently got a hand-me-down second fridge for our basement, so now I have room to stock up!

Thursday was music lesson day.

Friday was GORGEOUS WEATHER so the girls were outside a good part of the day. While outside, Rodney was working on changing and cleaning the headlights on the minivan and needed smaller fingers than his to reach something-or-other, so he recruited Lexie to help. 

Sabbath, Lexie and Ashlyn had been asked to tell the Bible Story in the Kindergarten class. The lesson helps provided a "script" to include all the children in acting out the story of Jesus healing the blind man, so that was a fun, interactive activity for all of them.  Lexie was the narrator, Ashlyn was the blind man, and the kids (and teachers, because we didn't have enough kids willing to participate/have speaking parts) acted out the rest of it.

Little Bit agreed to be one of the temple leaders, but wouldn't dress up. The all around favorite was when the temple leaders (and, interestingly enough, several other actors "changed roles" and became temple leaders, hee hee) chased the (healed) blind man from the temple for saying Jesus had healed "him". 

Saturday night the fun continued with a bonfire/hot dog roast at the pastor's house followed by a local parade. The kids had a BLAST and it was a great way for them to get to know the other kids from church better. The parade was a fun, small-town parade with tons of candy thrown to the kids. I have to admit, I was just as glad that Lexie and Ashlyn had various other kids on their laps so weren't able to grab much themselves. My 3 girls had one bag they were all putting candy into so when it was over they divided it evenly amongst the 3 of them. Still more candy than they NEED, but not too horribly much. And yet another reminder that my baby is growing up, she did a great job of handling it when people threw candy toward other groups of kids but not near enough for her to get any of it :) 

Whew!! WHAT a busy week!! It was all fun, but abit much to have all crammed into one week :) Believe it or not we did manage to cram some normal school stuff into the nooks and crannies amidst all the other stuff, although Friday's (and today's) amazing gorgeous perfect fall weather has been one of those "this is why we school year round! Go outside and soak up the awesomeness!!!" things :) 

And we'll end with an amusing random quote from Little Bit. On Friday night the twins put on matching nightgowns, wrapped their hair in matching towels (after their showers) and wanted to see if we could tell them apart. Little Bit successfully identified who was who. When they asked her how she could tell them apart she shrugged and said "I don't know, you just look different . . .your eyelashes are different". The girls asked if she meant eyebrows but she insisted she meant eyeLASHES completely with pointing to her own, so there you have it . . . if you want to tell twins apart, just look at their eyelashes, hee hee.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Schoolhouse Crew Review: New Liberty Videos

For the past year or so, my 11 year olds and I been learning about Ancient history. One thing that we have been FASCINATED with is how the archaeological evidence and writings from other cultures confirm the Biblical accounts. Additionally, we use primarily "living books" to learn history and coincidentally we ended up reading at least 3 separate books that included the Essenes of Qumran. So, when New Liberty Videos gave us the opportunity to review one of their videos, I happily chose Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As you may know, the famous Dead Sea scrolls were found in the vicinity of Qumran and are thought to have been scrolls copied, and hidden by the Essenes. What could be more perfect for what we've been learning about?!?!

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a DVD, available from New Liberty Videos for $19.95. It contains three separate "parts".  All of these "parts" are a video recording of lectures/presentations given live at a museum.

Part 1 is titled Dead Sea Scrolls with Joel Lampe. It shows some of the fragments, and talks about the science, geography, etc surrounding this amazing archaeological discovery.

Part 2, Hebrew Word Pictures with Dr. Frank Seekins shows what a fascinating and multi-dimensional language Ancient Hebrew was.

And finally, Part 3, The Forbidden Book with Dr. Craig Lampe.  In this part, Dr. Lampe shares how God used brave men like Wycliffe, Luther and Tyndale to preserve the Bible during that dark time of history.

I wasn't sure, from the description, if this video would be age appropriate for my 11 year olds or not, so when the DVD arrived, I watched it myself after the girls had gone to bed. While I didn't see any content that I found "inappropriate" I have to admit that I questioned whether or not they would like it. The videos aren't flashy, they are simply the live lectures given at the museum. But the information presented is interesting information and lines up nicely with things we've been studying, so I figured we'd at least start watching and see what Lexie and Ashlyn thought.

They LOVED this video!!! They loved all of it! When we'd watched all three parts of it, they asked "is there more?" What better endorsement can you ask for from tweens?

Part 1, on the Dead Sea Scrolls did NOT disappoint. Even after the books we've read about the Essenes of  Qumran, this presentation still taught us more and clarified things that were unclear in the stories we'd read. Additionally, it was fascinating to see all the work that was required to turn these well known "scrolls", that were really tiny fragments of parchment, into something that helped to validate the Old Testament scriptures.

While they thoroughly enjoyed, all three parts, I think both would agree that their favorite part was part 2. They were completely fascinated and enthralled by Dr. Seekins' explainations about the Ancient Hebrew language. As we were watching it, they asked? Does he teach Hebrew? I want to learn Hebrew from HIM! It is a truly fascinating presentation! I have to admit, I also found myself wishing he taught MORE about this amazing ancient language!

I plan to re-visit part 3 in a few months, when we are learning about the Reformation in history, but even with it being "ahead" of our current studies, it was an interesting, well-done presentation.

While no specific age range is mentioned for these videos, I think, unless you have a child who has a burning interest in the topic(s), these would generally be best for teens and adults. My 11 year olds LOVED the videos but they love history and are fascinated by these topics, if they had only a passing interest, I think they would have been turned off by the simple presentation. That said, I urge you, and your teens, to look past that simplicity, because the information presented in this DVD is truly fascinating! I look forward to reading my fellow crew mates' reviews (click the banner below), to see if the other videos offered for review are as good as this one, if so, I may be adding a few to our Christmas list!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for the Week of October 12

Our week began with Mama and Papa here to take advantage of the non-rainy days in the forecast. A big project that we needed to get done while the weather was good was tarring the roof where the previous owner cut the shingles, leading to leaks. Dad brought his scaffolding up for that project and the girls were all happy to "help". Little Bit was so excited to be able to climb around and occasionally hand things up to Papa or back down to Mama and me on the ground.

Papa also made progress on the shelves he's going to put in my kitchen, AND did the wiring so we could put an extra fridge in the basement. YAY!! It was so nice to come back from the farm this week and put most of the milk and eggs in the basement fridge instead of having that take up half of our main fridge!

Rodney and I also finally went out to eat for his birthday, only a month late, while Mama and Papa were here to watch the kids.

The rest of the week was pretty low key. . . we did school, the girls soaked up the beautiful fall weather whenever it was available. . . I did a bit of getting ready for winter by making some sage honey cough syrup, now I'm impatient for it to be done so I can try it! Lexie's comment "I can't wait till someone has a cough so we can try it!" Ummm . . . we can try it without anyone actually having a cough, dear! Someone online had mentioned they like it with herbal tea, I think I like that idea to try it out.

And that was pretty much our week.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: iWitness Books from Apologia

Over the last several years, as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we have enjoyed reviewing several amazing books from Apologia Educational Ministries, most recently, we were asked to review their new series of iWitness books by Doug Powell.

We received 3 books:

New Testament iWitness
Old Testament iWitness
iWitness Biblical Archaeology

In an interview with the author, he tells Apologia that he wrote these books because they are books he wishes were available when he was looking for answers to questions such as "where did the Bible come from?"

Each of these little books packs a TON of information into a small, easy-to-read format. As the titles suggest, these books respectively, talk about how the canon of the New Testament was determined, how the canon of the Old Testament was determined, and what archaeological evidence is there collaborates the Biblical accounts.

If we got these books a year ago, it would have been pretty much 100% new information for all of us. I have to admit, I don't remember ever questioning where the Bible came from, and if I ever learned it, growing up, it didn't make enough of an impression for me to remember it.  However, our study of Ancient history last year provided us with much fascinating information about the archaeological evidence to back up the Biblical account, and we learned briefly about how the canon of scripture was determined for as part of our Bible curriculum last year.

All of that has done a good job of whetting our appetites for this information, so when I told Lexie and Ashlyn about these books, we were all excited to check them out. Conveniently, there are 3 books, and 3 of us, so as soon as we received them, we each took one, read it, then traded . . . and traded again :)

These aren't huge books, I easily read each book in a couple hours (broken up into a million little pieces because I'm a mommy, and that's what mommies do). The girls read a bit slower, and they found the font, which resembles handwriting, hard to read, but they were able to read each book in less than a week (and tht was in the midst of all the travelling and house projects and such we've been busy with lately).

As soon as we got the books and started reading them, Ashlyn started sharing things with me. I frequently heard "Mommy did you know . . . ?"  That's always a good sign. The girls also asked many questions about what they were reading. The books got them thinking, I like that!

Instead of being written like a "normal" book, these books are designed with little tidbits of information that appears to be jotted down on scraps of paper with pictures of artifacts and such in the background. As I mentioned above, the downside of this is, the "handwriting" type of font was sometimes hard for my children to read. These books are described as being for a reading level of age 11 and up, and my girls are 11, perhaps one reason for this is the font? I don't think my girls found the content itself, to be at all challenging to their reading ability, but we don't really pay attention to reading levels, I suspect that, from a comprehension standpoint, they are "above grade level". I think I, personally, would have been just as happy reading clear text on one page and having clear artifact pictures on another page, I didn't really see where the layout added anything to the information but perhaps some children would find this layout different enough to catch and hold their attention.

One thing that disappointed me was that the Archaeology book strongly hints at the idea of Noah's flood being a local, rather than worldwide flood.

Overall, despite the flood-references, we enjoyed these books. They are available for $14 each from Apologia Educational Ministries.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

A Family Toolbox for Parents and Teens (a review)

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I attended my first homeschool convention in 2009. Ashlyn and Lexie were 6 and Little Bit was only a couple months old. One of the seminars I attended was a parenting seminar, I don't remember the specific topic, by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. As I was sitting there, struggling with the challenges of guiding my older daughters through the transition of a new baby, Scott and Joanne's words were exactly what I needed! I attended at least one more of their seminars that weekend, purchased the cds of all of their other seminars from that weekend, and purchased several products at their booth. . . and I've been a huge fan of their products ever since!

Now, Lexie and Ashlyn are 11 and we are all navigating this new world of teens and tweens. And some days it's challenging. When I was given the opportunity to review NCBP's brand new program for parents and teens, The Family Toolbox, I was more than happy to oblige!

The Family Toolbox is a DVD and "workbook" designed to help guide parents and teens through constructive discussions about 16 Life Principles, presented in 8 lessons. It is available for $99.95, or a downloadable version for $79.95.

Each lesson includes several "pieces".  Before sitting down with your teen(s), there is a page in the workbook for the parent to read, then it is helpful to pre-watch the short (just a couple minutes long) video segment that you will be watching with your teens, and scan over the discussion questions you'll use with them. There is also a longer video segment for each lesson that is Scott and Joanne talking about parenting teen in these scenarios presented in this lesson, and a workbook page for the parent to jot down specific challenge related to this lesson, as well as ideas to improve things in their family. All together, plan on about half an hour of "prep time" before going over a lesson with your teens.

The time spent with teens includes reading a couple sentences "setting the stage" for the video clip, watching the short video clip, and then going over a couple pages of discussion questions together, looking at what the people in the clip did wrong, and could have done differently, and finally applying all of this to your particular family situation, and discussing changes to be made.

Ideally, I would go over one lesson per week, or perhaps even every other week, or once a month, allowing time for all of us to really focus on making improvements to the life principles presented in that lesson before moving on to the next lesson. I also like the suggestion of making this a special time with an ice cream treat while watching and discussing, or making each lesson a "date time" for parent(s) and teen(s). However, because I wanted to get through most of the program during the review period, we have moved through it more quickly during the review period.

It was interesting to note that even when discussing things hypothetically, using the video clip "family", my girls tended to get defensive over areas where they need to work on things. The lessons that didn't "hit as close to home", they enjoyed the discussion, in some cases, despite my best efforts, strong feelings were involved. Especially with those areas, I think taking the time to make the discussion time a special "treat", and then spending a week or longer following that discussion, all working together on making improvements in our family, followed by some "check-ins" to see how we're all doing, would not only be more beneficial, but also would have led to less . . . heated reactions from my girls. I think being hit in such quick succession made them react more strongly.

Overall, as with all of the products I've used from National Center for Biblical Parenting, the principles presented, and the focus on relationships and "heart issues", is wonderful! I was disappointed to find that most of the video advice to parents was very similar to the advice I already had heard in the other products, I was hoping for something more specific to teens, and didn't find that to be the case. However, since most people probably haven't already read pretty much everything available from Scott and Joanne, the advice is EXCELLENT!!!

One thing that I think would have worked better for my girls, is if Scott and Joanne had also spoken to the teens. I think some of the information presented by "me" as I read through the discussion questions with them, would have been better received coming from an "expert" instead of it being one more instance of "Mommy telling us what to do".

In conclusion, I asked Lexie and Ashlyn what they thought about it. Lexie's response was "it takes too much time" which I think comes from (a) the fact that we were doing this several times a week instead of once a week and (b) that in most cases it did spark quite a bit of discussion and that discussion took awhile. Ashlyn said she liked it but that she felt that it wouldn't work well for a kid who didn't already want to improve communication and relationship with their parents. I think that might be a valid observation, but perhaps that would be true of anything?

Overall, this is a great resource for opening discussion with your teens, and moving toward a relation-based family dynamic. If you aren't familiar with the National Center for Biblical Parenting, the parent videos that are a part of this package are very helpful, and quite honestly, I can't imagine parenting with having these concepts as a part of our family's belief structure!

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Weekly Wrap-Up for the Week of October 5

Our week began in the Cincinnati area, but you can read about that here.

We got home Monday evening and were well occupied with unpacking and getting settled back into our normal routines.

Once we were home, the girls spent a large part of one day harvesting miniature pumpkins and using all 22 of them to decorate the front porch.  Partway through the summer we noticed a pumpkin vine growing in our compost pile. Eventually we determined it was the miniature pumpkins (the girls had each gotten one at church last fall and when they got squishy, I tossed them in compost, apparently one of the seeds grew). When we got back from our weekend trip, the pumpkins were ready to harvest, so the girls picked them, and then used them, and ribbon, to decorate the front porch. I thought it turned out great!

The rest of the week we enjoyed the fall weather, Bible Road Trip, lots of read alouds, independent work in math . . . music lessons . . .

And wrapped up our week celebrating the beginning of Sukkot. Much to Little Bit's delight, the fairies came to visit, and at their suggestion we made rather untraditional "sukkahs" by hanging shower curtains, decorated with sharpies from hula hoops. Unfortunately, Mommy failed to follow through and we haven't actually HUNG the hula hoops anywhere (I need to figure out where the girls want them, and find my command hooks (because it's much too rainy to have OUTDOOR sukkahs this year, grumble, grumble) . . . hopefully before Sukkot is over, sigh . . .  Still they had fun decorating them :)