Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful for New Life

We were excited to announce the coming of the newest member of our Crew to our family and friends on Thanksgiving Day!  Baby is due to arrive in early June! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To 'Unknown' - A Response to Your Comment

You may remember that a few weeks ago I posted a review on the book Children in Church.  I also wrote about our conviction to be more intentional in the discipling of our children and how we had been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to let our children participate in the middle school youth program at our church.  We did pray about this for some time and decided that we felt that God was leading us away from participating in the older youth programs and instead moving towards worshiping together as a family on Sunday mornings.  You can read the full article and review at this link.

Recently, I received a comment from 'Unknown' who is a youth ministry leader.

'Unknown' wrote...

I too appreciate the thought you have put into considering the spiritual health of your children.

As a youth ministry leader, I would like to offer some food for thought: As parents we often become overly protective of our children - and rightfully so at times. Your points on the environment within youth ministries is a painful reality. But three points I'd like to voice for consideration:

1. Children's ministries allow for youth to connect with God on a youth level. The communication methods used in most children's churches are tailored so that kids can meet with God at their own development level. What seems like foolish games for us, actually has a method behind it for learning retention and psychological well-being. Putting a child into an adult setting can often become great family time, but highly ritualistic for the child and can lead to a sense of spirituality without full understanding because the "language" used to explain the theology shared is not the "language" children speak (as it is tailored to a more mature adult audience).

2. There is power in multiple perspectives and techniques. You know what your children need on a certain level, but as parents, we are not perfect either. Sometimes we need to allow our children to be exposed to other Christian viewpoints. Not to woo them away from the Truth, but help balance them in light of our own spiritual misunderstanding, strongholds, and shortcomings.

3. No church ministry is perfect. Segregation does not help progress within a learning environment, but stifles it. If you are finding the problems you mentioned going on in your local church - I would suggest you engage, not segregate your children. Be the voice of reason. Become involved. Lend your voice of wisdom from God to help other leaders focus the children. The more leadership for children, the better, and most children's church leaders would be thrilled to find someone who is not just a parent who wishes to engage the well-being of their own kids, but also the well-being of others children whose parents are not discerning the same issues you are.
The Enemy divides! The Lord multiplies! Believe me, it will be more than worth it. 


I really do appreciate that people take the time to read my articles and respond to them (even if they don't agree with me!)  Sometimes I am able to take the time to respond ... my crew does keep me pretty busy :) ... and I wanted to respond to this commenter.  I am afraid, that often tone is difficult to translate when writing, so before you begin to read my response I want you to know that I was not offended by these comments and I mean no offense with my comments.  I truly believe that "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17) and enjoy a good healthy debate among believers.  So please don't mistake my passion for the subject matter to be anger.  That's simply not the case.

Also, before you read my response I want to clear the air about what exactly my concerns about the middle school youth program were.  Just in case you did not read the prior article, here is an excerpt,

"It's not that I don't trust that my church youth group leaders are fully committed to the Lord and to serving our youth.  It's just that, I remember middle school.  I remember that kids were catty.  They were obsessed with boy-girl relationships.  They were mean.  Let's face it, I was one of those kids in middle school.  I realized that a large portion of my child's Sunday morning church experience was going to be "socializing" among this peer group.  And I'm not trying to sound judgmental...please hear my heart...but let's face it, we all know that a large portion of youth group is also geared towards fun and games.  They're kids.  They like to have fun.  I get it, really I do.  It's an outreach tool.  But what I couldn't seem to reconcile with myself, was if it was all worth it.  I knew that there was nothing that even loving, caring youth workers could do about eliminating the negative influences that would undoubtedly be presented to my kids by their peers. "  

I also followed this up later in the article to let you know how our thoughts on the matter had progressed through prayer and study...

" I want you to know that this conviction of mine to bring my children into church worship with me is no longer so much about being concerned about the negative influence that they may receive from peers.  It is much more about a call from the Omniscient God directed to my husband and me to bring up our children "in the training and instruction of the Lord"(Eph. 6:4).   Consider this quote from the book (Children in Church):

"We knew we could probably do an adequate job of teaching our children about the faith if we kept them at arm's length.  However, to pursue the divine mission of nurturing and training the next generation, we needed to be willing to live out before them, moment by moment, our prayerfully faithful though oft imperfect desire to love and serve the living God." "

Finally, my response...

To Unknown,

First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read my article and to post your thoughts on the matter. I would also like to say that every point that you brought up are not new thoughts to us. We prayed for nearly a year about our decision to let our children participate in the middle school youth group on Sunday mornings. We fully considered every argument in order to decide what we felt was best for our family.

Now, I'd like to respond to your comments. You hinted at first that we were being "overly protective" (Presumably by not allowing our children to participate in the middle school youth program). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that "overly protective" by definition means that one is protective of someone or something when there really is no danger or threat. However, in your very next sentence you admit, "Your points on the environment within youth ministries is a painful reality." That's just it. Having not grown up within the church myself and having not volunteered with the middle school youth program, I was very concerned that I was being overly protective. So I sought out counsel from many Christian friends, both of whom had grown up in youth group and those who have and currently volunteer there. I went looking for someone to tell me that my concerns weren't warranted. I couldn't find one. Every person, even those volunteering there and those with their children in the program confirmed that I had reason to be concerned. So I concluded that I wasn't, in fact being "overly protective"...I was simply being protective, which is my job as a parent to do.

As to your point that "Children's ministries allow for youth to connect with God on a youth level"... I think that it is presumptuous to assume that a youth leader (who sees my child only 1-2 hours a week) or a program director (who doesn't even know my child) knows better than I, his mother and primary teacher, how my child learns. Each of my children thrive with different learning styles and personalities and I am very aware of each of them. My husband and I believe that we, the parents, are mandated by Scripture to disciple our children. We don't just drag our kids into church kicking and screaming and expect them to "be quiet and listen". We look for ways to engage them before, during, and after the service. The book I reviewed, Children in Church, is very helpful in offering practical ways for the parents to help their children become engaged during the sermon including preparing their hearts for worship, helping them to draw (when they are very young)and take notes during the sermon, and discussing it as a family afterwards. Also, discipling our children doesn't just happen on Sunday happens daily as we have family worship, devotionals, and prayer we discuss spiritual matters as we go about our day and study God's word within our school curricula.

You also said, " the "language" used to explain the theology shared (in church services) is not the "language" children speak". Unfortunately, this is partially true...but also a serious problem. At what age do you think a person should be able to comprehend a sermon spoken from a typical bible-preaching pulpit? If not by middle school, then by high school?? Surely by the time they are an adult and in college? By the time they are married? Then why is it that the "youth" of our church continue to segregate themselves from the majority of the congregation well into adulthood...with high school groups, college age ministries, even "young married" ministries. These ministries aren't just stopping with an after church social or in-home bible study...they are tailor making entire worship services "speaking in their worship style and language". I agree with you that "Segregation does not help progress within a learning environment, but stifles it"! I agree with you that "The Enemy divides! The Lord multiplies!" which is precisely why I do not believe in the age segregation that takes place within the church. My 11 year old has accepted Jesus as His Lord and Savior. The same Holy Spirit that resides within me resides in him. I think he is perfectly able to comprehend preaching from the Word of God. And when he comes to something he is having trouble understanding, thankfully his father and I are right there next to him to help him understand.

You also said, "There is power in multiple perspectives and techniques. You know what your children need on a certain level, but as parents, we are not perfect either. Sometimes we need to allow our children to be exposed to other Christian viewpoints..." Oh, I will definitely agree with you that I am not perfect (in parenting and otherwise!) and I'm afraid, my children are the ones who know that the best! Once again, just because my children aren't participating in church youth group on Sundays doesn't mean that they are not being "exposed to other Christian (or non-Christian) viewpoints". We openly discuss what other people think and believe with our children and ask them what they think. When we made the decision not to participate in middle school youth, we sat down with our son and explained to him why. We gave examples of our concerns, we didn't try to shield him from it, but explained it fully. He understood and agreed with our decision. We participate in a variety of activities with other families (church related and non-church related) including Bible Bowl (a youth program complete with games and candy rewards), homeschool co-ops and field trips, and sports/extra-curricular activities. We are close friends with several families (all with different 'Christian viewpoints') whom we see on a nearly weekly basis. We consider them not only friends, but mentors for ourselves and our children.

Finally, I appreciate the encouragement to volunteer within our church's youth program. And I will say, that we very nearly did. My husband and I prayed specifically about this. We both felt that the only way we would allow our kids to participate in the youth group would be if we were volunteering. We felt that would only be responsible since God gave us, the parents, the responsibility of teaching our children about Him (Deuteronomy 6:7). One day we will stand before him and I don't think "Well, I sent him to Sunday School...I don't really know what was going on there, but that's not my fault," is going to fly. However, instead of convicting us to serve and participate there, my husband and I both felt a strong conviction to 'step it up' in discipling our own children and for us, that included Sunday morning.

We also felt a conviction and a burden to share this with others. Neither of us feel that youth ministry is "wrong". We know families that are doing a fine job of discipling their kids and still participate in all youth groups. But we know so many more who are not discipling their kids and I think this is largely due to the fact that church body is rather silent on the matter. Instead of telling parents to step it up and live out and teach their children about their faith, instead of encouraging dads to man up and lead their families spiritually in the manner of family devotions and worship within the home, the church body is often saying, "Don't worry about it...we got it handled. Just send them to youth group on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights." But that is not enough and it is not Scriptural.

I want to be clear. Even though we choose not to participate in the middle school and up youth program, that does not mean that we don't find value in it. I know that many parents simply won't teach their children about God. And if they won't, someone definitely should. But I do often wish that youth leaders would recognize that the parents should be the first to disciple their children (both because Scripture mandates it and because it makes sense-parents are with them more and know them and love them intimately). I wish that youth leaders would invest as much time into equipping parents to do what Scripture tells them and working with parents as they do in trying to reach kids "in their own language". Parents are the ones who truly know the language of their child's heart. We are the ones who are best fit to reach them when we are fully leaning on God and walking in His way, that's why God gave them to us!

As a youth leader I beg you, stop telling parents, "Back off, I got this!" Please instead encourage parents to step up and do what God designed them to do. If we can get parents to step up, I believe my concerns about church youth group will no longer be valid. It doesn't matter how many loving youth group leaders a church has, there will still be severe issues of sin that is prevalent among our teenagers and preteens today. But if the church can get the fathers to "turn their hearts back to their children" then we will see a real change and growth in our children.

Shanna Pin It Now!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Toddler Diaries - Sensory Bags

 The Toddler Diaries is a blog series I created to showcase the toddler activities I attempt with my 5, 4, 3, and 1 year old.  I also rate our experience to let you know if I think it was worth the time (and the mess)!  Feel free to check out all of my Toddler Diaries posts.

Sensory Bags
 I've seen pins and posts about sensory bags and thought the idea looked intriguing.  It's a pretty simple concept that starts with a bag of balloons.
 Next, search your home looking for items to put in your balloons.  I chose the following:

rotini noodles
paper clips

 Next, fill your bags.  I made two of each, two balloons with buttons, two balloons with noodles, etc. so that the kids could match the balloons according to feel.  I DID NOT use the same color balloon with any two of the same sensory item.  I wanted the kids to be able to match the bags by feel OR match them by color.  I also realized that a very full balloon of rice felt very different then a balloon with just a little bit of rice, so I did two of each.  Similarly, I made two balloons with a small ball of yarn each in them as well as two balloons with some yarn just randomly stuffed inside.

 L4 seemed to have the most fun with the sensory bags.  She could understand the concept of matching them by feel which was a little harder for my younger 3 year old to grasp.

Rating:  Educational activity that promotes good thinking skills.  However, the bags are slightly time-consuming to make and really don't hold our kids' attention very long.
Time Commitment For Me:  It took little more than an hour to find the materials needed to make the bags and fill them.
Toddler Time: 5-10 minutes.  This is the most disappointing part of the project.  I thought the kids would have more fun feeling the bags, trying to guess what was inside them, and matching them.  Unfortunately, it really doesn't hold their attention.
Additional Comments: We've actually had these bags for a couple months now, and I rarely pull them out.  Honestly, I forget that we have them.  I'm afraid these bags were just a little underwhelming for our toddlers. Pin It Now!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Teaching Kids to Sing

 The creators of Vocal Coach are Chris and Carole Beatty.  They have been teaching singing for over 40 years.  They offer both Vocal Coach Singer (great for junior high students through adult) and Teaching Kids to Sing (for ages 5 through 5th grade).

Our family was sent Teaching Kids to Sing which includes 2 instructional DVDs and 1 instructional CD.

The first DVD is broken into four sections:

Warm Ups

The second DVD includes three sections:

The CD includes a total of 4 songs and 8 Warm Ups (each has a track with vocals and without).

The videos are recorded in what looks to be a typical music classroom.  Chris Beatty leads a group of students in vocal exercises and songs as he instructs both the students and us (the DVD audience).  Carole Beatty is also in the classroom helping the students as they learn.

My children in grades K, 2, 4, 5, and 6 all participated along with these DVDs.  At first they seemed hesitant to sing along with the lessons, but as they saw that everyone was singing (including Mom!), they quickly joined in.  I appreciated that kids were in the video (not only singing, but often answering questions) and I think that it made it easier for my kids to feel like they could participate.

E9 said, "I think the Teaching Kids to Sing videos helped me to learn a lot more about singing.  I know that I need to stand up tall when I'm singing now."

A10 said, "I like how they turned everything you learned into a song at the end of the lesson."

H6 said, "I liked it because they are teaching me to sing."

Our kids learned songs like "Upright Child of the King" to remember to use good posture while singing and "Breathing Rap" to help remember to use proper breathing.  The DVDs are not very long...maybe about 30 minutes each.  We chose to watch the lessons 2 at a time and then practice the songs and warm-ups in between. 

I think this is a great beginner program for anyone wanting their kids to learn the basics of singing.  It's so user-friendly...just pop in a DVD or CD and sing along! 

Teaching Kids to Sing 3 Disc DVD/CD Set is sold for $44.99.  Both this product and the Vocal Coach Singer were reviewed by the Schoolhouse Review Crew, so be sure to check out the blog for more info!

Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing Up Wild

 Growing Up Wild is a collection of educational DVDs that takes you into the remote jungles of Indonesia and shows you the day to day life of the four Wild brothers. Each episode will share an aspect of missionary life and offer activity ideas that will cause your children to explore their world and connect with ours. -From the Growing Up Wild website.

Meet the Wilds!  Mom, Dad, and 3 Wild brothers.  The Wilds are an amazing family serving as missionaries in the remote tribal jungle of Indonesia.

We received Volume 1 and 4 of the Growing Up Wild dvds.  Each included 3 15-minute episodes as well as an activity guide for teachers.
Volume 1 included the following episodes:
1. Home Sweet Hut - Get an insiders peek at the Wild Family Hut.
2. Supply Trip - Living in the jungle means flying in supplies.
3. Sun & Water - Learn with the Wild's about how sun and water power their home and help them to live in the jungle a little more comfortably.

 Volume 4 includes the following episodes:
1. Amazing World Around Us - Amazing episode about the wildlife in the jungles of Papua.
2. Adventures in Culture - Learn along with the Wild brothers about the tribal culture...including nose piercing!  (My kids loved this episode!)
3. Tribal Calling (See why the Wilds and other missionary families feel called to tribal missions.)

 These dvds are a part of a 5 dvd series filmed by the Wild Family.  It took them 3 years to film and produce these films that they consider "a tool to influence an army of future missionaries that would take the Gospel to the remaining unreached people groups of the world."

Our entire family have truly enjoyed each episode of the Growing Up Wild dvds.  It has been particularly timely for us as we have been studying missionaries this year as part of our read-aloud studies.  It's been wonderful for our kids to get a glimpse into the lives of current day missionaries and to learn how this Christians are sharing the gospel "to the ends of the earth"!
As well as watching the episodes, we also enjoyed doing the follow up activities suggested on the teacher's guide which are a part of the DVD-Rom.  Some activities were as simple as watching a creation video that the Wild brothers enjoy. 
 One activity included making a Venn Diagram to show the similarities and differences between the Wild hut and our own house.  Our kids liked comparing our house to the Wild's hut, but that experience was quickly topped when they had the opportunity to make their own hut...

 It is far more crude then the Wild hut, but such a fun project!

The Growing Up Wild dvd series would make a great addition to your homeschool studies and would also be perfect for a Sunday School Class series.  The quality of the filming is excellent and the episodes are educational and inspiring. 

 You can purchase each Growing Up Wild dvd for $18.99 and you can read more reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cookies - Been There, Pinned That

   Who hasn't fallen head over heels for Pinterest these days?  The other day my grandma walked into her kitchen and announced sadly, "My flipflop just broke."

   Simultaneously both my aunt and my husband...yes, I said my husband...nearly screamed, "I know how to fix that!"  I knew how to fix it too because, like them, I had seen it on Pinterest.

   So I thought I would ocassionally post the results of pins that I actually pin and use.  First up is some yummy "cookies" I made the other day after seeing them on Pinterest.  The original pin came from a blog called Runs for Cookies Recipes.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

This recipe is so simple that even I could make it.  We did double the original in order to fit the needs of our super sized family....oh, and I added chocolate chips. :)

2 boxes of Spice Cake Mix
1 large can of pumpkin
1 bag of semi sweet chocolate chips

Simply mix the Spice Cake mix and pumpkin together.  Really easy, but you'll be a little worried at first.  Try humming along with Dori from Finding Nemo..."just keep mixing, mixing, mixing...".  Seriously, mix for several minutes and it will eventually look like the above pic.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Place spoonful "lumps" onto a baking sheet and bake according to cake mix directions.  I got about 6 dozen cookies.
I have to admit, they were oh-so-yummy!  But I think they were far too cake-like to be called cookies.  I would consider them more like 'muffin-tops'.  Whatever you call them, we will be making them again and again! Pin It Now!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Primary Arts of Language by IEW

 The Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW) is one of those curriculum providers that I have admired from afar for many years.  I have often passed their booth at homeschool conventions and thought, "When I am really ready to start teaching writing, I will check them out."  But if I'm honest, I felt a little intimidated by IEW and just wasn't sure if it would be the right fit for our family.

 Nevertheless, when I had the opportunity to review IEW's new Primary Arts of Language (PAL) program, I just couldn't pass it up.  The PAL program is designed to teach primary age students (grades K-2) how to begin with reading and writing.  I was particularly interested in this since I have a kindergartner this year.  E5 started the school year using a different program, but I was finding that it just wasn't right for us.  We kept trying to make it work, but I could tell that E5 would really flourish with something more hands-on and less like a workbook.  The more research I did on PAL, the more it looked like exactly what I was looking for.

 I have to say, at first glance the PAL program looks overwhelming.  Partially, that is because it is not just one program, but two complete programs designed to fit perfectly together.  I will briefly break the components of each program down...
   First up is the Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package.  It includes:

PAL Reading Teachers Manual
PAL Phonetic Games book - This spiral bound book includes everything you need to create over 30 file folder games for your student to use with the reading program.  The games are printed on cardstock, making them durable for repeated use, and all you have to do is cut them out and assemble them into file folder games.
PAL Phonetic Farm Folder with Stickers - As students learn new multi-letter phonograms, they have the opportunity to put stickers onto their Phonetic Farm.  As well as a reward tool, the Phonetic Farm is also helpful for reviewing the sounds.
PAL Reading DVD Rom - Includes the following:
  • Instructional Video by Jill Pike
  • The Four Language Arts MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • Nurturing Competent Communicators MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • Poetry as an Integrator MP3 Audio by Anna Ingham
  • Intro to the Blended Sound Sight Program MP3 Audio by Anna Ingham
  • Primary Arts of Language: Reading Student Book (e-book)
 If purchased separately, these items would cost $98.  But the PAL Reading Complete Package is sold for $69.

  The second component of the PAL program is the Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete Package.  It includes:

PAL Writing Teaching Manual
PAL Writing DVD-Rom - Includes the following:
  • Instructional Video by Jill Pike
  • Reading Comprehension MP3 Audio by Adam Andrews
  • Dictation, Narration, and Public Speaking MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • The Four Language Arts MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • Primary Arts of Language: Writing Student Books (e-book)
 All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit
All About Spelling Level 1 - Teacher's Manual and One Student Material Packet plus bonus e-audio downloads

I was thrilled that the PAL Writing package included All About Spelling.  AAS is a program designed by Marie Rippel that we have reviewed before and were already familiar with.  I have enjoyed using AAS with my older kids and knew that the E5 would enjoy this multi-sensory approach as well.

If purchased separately these items would cost $113.  The PAL Writing Complete Package is $89.

 For a more thorough introduction to the PAL program, watch this video from Andrew Pudewa:

You may also be interested in this webinar recorded to answer many FAQs about the program.

Finally, I wanted to share how a typical day using the PAL program works.  First, I will tell you that it did take me about a week to look through the contents of the program and to prepare the items needed.  Both the Reading and the Writing program contained an introductory video on the DVD Rom that I watched immediately and found very helpful. I then set about printing out the student materials and assembling them in two separate binders (one for reading and one for writing).  I also prepared all of the file folder games at once.  You may choose to prepare the games only as needed, but I knew it would be helpful to me to already have them ready and available when I needed them.

Also, I will mention that E5 has only been using this program for a few weeks and we are moving slowly but steadily through it.  So there are some components of the program that we haven't got to yet (namely All About Spelling) which will start later in the program.

At the beginning of the day, I will open both of my teacher's manuals (for the reading and writing programs) and set them side by side on my desk.  I refer to them both and move back and forth between them as directed. 

First, we will read the assigned poem.  The poems are repeated for several days and each day the poem will be used to teach new phonograms, spelling, or grammar rules.

Next we will move on to the class journal.  Our class journal is a simple notebook that I (the teacher) write in each day with the help of E5.  We will head each day's entry with the date which gives us a great opportunity to review calendar skills and capitalization rules.  Then E5 will help me to develop 2-3 sentences describing our day, which I will write.  Again, we review capitalization rules as well as punctuation rules.

Next we will move on to printing where E5 will review the letters he has already learned to write and sound out, as well as learn new letters using the PAL Letter Stories.  The letter stories are an adorable way to help students learn both the sound and construction of a letter.  For example, the letter 'c' is the happy letter.  He's happy be cause he is a c-c-cookie who someone has taken a bite out of.  (The letter 'c' looks like a round cooking that is open on one side because someone has taken a bite.)

Next, we will enjoy story time.  A new short story is provided each day in the teacher's manual, which I read out loud and then ask questions pertaining to the characters/setting, problem, climax, and clincher of the story.  I love that in kindergarten, E5 is already learning the elements of a short story!

Then E5 will get to play a few file folder games to reinforce the sounds and words he is learning.

E5 is always excited to get to this part of the day.  Not surprisingly, he loves playing games and I love a curriculum that includes learning games as part of their program! 
After playing games, we will have a work period...generally this is just a color, cut, and paste one-page activity that reinforces the sounds and words that we have learned that day.  E5 is a bit of an artist and has always enjoyed coloring and creating things.  He happily spends long periods of time working on art and craft projects and he shows no exception during the work period section of PAL.  He actually enjoys it.
Finally, we will add stickers to the Phonetic Farm which E5 will tell you is his favorite part of the day.  Exploring the Phonetic Farm allows him the opportunity to review the sounds we have been learning.  Sometimes we will have a spelling test or other end of day activities that PAL recommends.
Here is E5 with his sister, L4, who has also been following along with the PAL program.  They are playing the Color game together.  I love it when there is fun and smiles in my classroom!

Final Thoughts:  The Primary Arts of Language by IEW is a thorough program.  While I initially thought it seemed overwhelming, I found that there was a tremendous amount of help available within the program to make it easier for me to understand.  Once we delved into the program, I found it easy to use with each part of the day broken down step by step.  Generally, it takes us about 1.5-2 hours to move through the material for the day.  However, I think we, personally, are a bit slow.  This is new material for E5, he enjoys taking his time with coloring and playing games, and we also allow for a slower pace so that my 4 year old can follow along.

Also, I am happy to report that E5 has begun reading his first words using the PAL program!  He is not just memorizing, but beginning to sound out words.  Even though he is my fifth child to learn to read under my tutelage, I never ceased to be amazed and humbled at being a part of the process.  It is quite a blessing!

Primary Arts of Language was absolutely the right fit for our family.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a beginning reading and writing program.  Several families reviewed this program, so feel free to check out other reviews at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Grace and Truth Books

 The first time I heard of Grace & Truth Books, a family owned online Christian bookstore, was about three years ago.  We were struggling with some, *ahem*, character issues with one of our children ...including, but not limited to, lying.  We really wanted to nip this problem and were taking several courses of action.  One thing I thought would be important to do was to include books that dealt with character during our read aloud time.  Someone recommended Grace & Truth Books and we quickly ordered several titles from The Children's Character Building Set.  These books were exactly what I was looking for and I would definitely encourage parents to check this series out!

 So when the opportunity to review a book from Grace & Truth for the Schoolhouse Review Crew came up, I didn't hesitate to accept!  I already knew that Grace & Truth published quality books and quality literature.  I was sent a copy of With the Children on Sundays by Sylvanus Stall.

From the Publisher's Preface...

"'With the Children on Sundays' is as unique as it is wonderful.  It was first published in 1893 as a series of children's sermons and then was brought back into print in 1995.  This new edition is an evidence of the consistent desire to have it available to the Christian public.

Please allow us to walk you through its content and usefulness.  The book is perfectly designed to be a weekly book for family worship, as well as a ready-made Sunday school curriculum for children from the ages of five to eleven.  Each chapter uses an object lesson that teaches biblical truth, as well as wonderful illustrations that can be copied and used for coloring.  Each chapter then closes with a series of questions that can be used to review the contents of the chapter."

Since we are already accustomed to have a time of family worship about three evenings a week, my husband and I looked the book over together and decided that it would perfect to use during that time.  So instead of using this book only on Sundays, we have been using it about three times a week.
With the Children on Sundays first begins with a Preface and chapter on 'Suggestions to Parents'.  These suggestions include how to "play church" at home which is essentially suggestions for a home family worship time.  There are also ideas for how to reinforce the lessons taught in each sermon (chapter) with drawing, playing games, bible drilling and more.   There is even a list of Bible Questions and Answers that would be great to review with your children on a consistent basis. 

There are 52 sermons - or chapters- included in this book, each about five pages long with delightful black and white illustrations.  Each chapter suggests an object that can be used to help illustrate the point of the sermon.  For example, a magnet is used to illustrate how Jesus is the 'great drawing power'.  A child's bank is used to discuss the idea of treasures on earth and in Heaven.

Now my husband will be the first to tell you that he is no planner.  And since he was leading these lessons, he would generally just pick up the book and start reading the sermon once the kids were settled down.  The objects were generally represented with an illustration, but for some of the more unfamiliar items (like a clam, or wormy apple, or anchor), I would find pictures online for the kids to explore.

The wording and stories of With the Children on Sundays will definitely take you back to a different time...over a century ago as a matter of fact....and sometimes that made it difficult for my youngest ones to follow.  But the lessons in each sermon are truly classic, each based on the timeless Word of God.  I think this book truly makes it easy for a parent to lead their children in a time of family worship in the home.

With the Children on Sundays is currently out of print, but Grace & Truth Books has a limited number of copies available for purchase, currently priced at $17.50.  My suggestion would be to grab this book up before it is no longer available.  The Schoolhouse Review Crew is reviewing this other books by Grace & Truth.  Check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for those reviews.

Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are All Christians Judgmental?

Tonight, I'm feeling weary.

I'm weary for a lot of reasons, but I am especially weary at the moment from the multitude of comments I have been hearing lately about how judgmental we Christians are.  It's all over the place really...the media, Facebook status posts, in the comment section of any semi-Christian-related online article, and on the tip of every unbelieving or I'm-a-Christian-but-I'm-not-one-of-those-Christians tongue.  And it's making me feel weary.

I mean, after all, what exactly does it mean to pass judgment on someone?  Granted, I'm sure you have probably met some Christians who have been judgmental.  I have.  I've also been a judgmental Christian from time to time.  However, I have to admit that before becoming a Christian, I was judgmental a lot more of the time.  Which brings me to the point that I'm sure you've met plenty of judgmental people who aren't Christians, too.  You know, some might say that when you group all Christians together and call them judgmental, that you are the one passing judgment.

I digress.

So I looked up the word 'judging' in the Webster's 1828 dictionary.  (The word 'judgmental' wasn't there.)  This is what I found:

 JUDG'ING, ppr. Hearing and determining; forming an opinion; dooming.

Now, I'm just going to assume that no one is actually concerned about Christians 'hearing and determining' or 'forming an opinion'.  After all, doesn't everyone these days believe that everyone's opinion has merit?  I mean, what you believe is true is true for you and what I believe is true is true for me, right?  Unless of course, I believe that there is an absolute truth, and especially if I believe that absolute truth is equivalent with biblical truth, and that couldn't possibly be true!  That opinion has no merit whatsoever ... only opinions that agree that my true is true and your true is true can be true.  Right?

Once again, I digress.

So, I'm thinking that the most appropriate definition according to Webster for what many people mean when they say that Christians are constantly judging others is 'dooming'.  And I'm curious, what is it exactly that you find us, as an ENTIRE group, doing that is so 'dooming'?  I think I know the answer.  Okay, I won't be cheeky...I know the answer!  I know it because so many people are screaming about it these days.  Here it is...

Christians are judgmental because we refuse to acknowledge 'sin' as 'okay'.

That is what it boils down to, right?  It really upsets people when someone disagrees with their life choices (or in some cases - the life choices of someone they know) and actually says out loud that it is wrong.  But is disagreeing with someone being judgmental - is it dooming them? Or is it simply disagreeing.

After all, isn't it Christians (true, bible-believing Christians) who are the first to admit that they are nothing but sinners saved by grace themselves?  Apostle Paul said,

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." -1 Timothy 1:12-15

And I would really like to clear the air for those of you who think I am judgmental.  I would like to stand in agreement with Paul. I am the worst of sinners.  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a liar and an adulterer, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord  was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus!  

Paul goes on later to describe how even after becoming a Christian, he still struggles with sin...

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.-Romans 7:18-19

I hear you, Paul...I'm so with you!  God has changed my heart and I seek to do His will, but I struggle every day.  I struggle with acting out in anger.  I struggle with laziness and selfishness.  I struggle with hypocrisy.  I struggle with sin because I am sinner.

But still, I will not tell you that sin is 'okay'.  

Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death" .

If God calls it sin, I will call it sin ... whether it is your sin or my sin.  So does that make me judgmental?

Maybe it does.  You know, now that I think about it....maybe it's not the fact that you call me judgmental that really bothers me.  Maybe its what you imply with the word.  Because it seems that no one can ever make a statement about all those "judgmental Christians" without following it up with another comment almost exactly like the following...

Why can't we just treat everybody as equals?

And this is the one that really burns me.  Why is it that you think that if I disagree with you, I'm not treating you as an equal? And if that really is your logic, than why in the world can't you treat me as an equal?!

Romans 3:23 says, "For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  That means YOU sin, I sin, WE ALL sin.  That's equality, folks!

John 3:16 says, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."(NLT) To follow up with Romans 6:23 it says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."   You see, God loves ALL of us, despite our sin.  He sent His Son to die for ALL of our sins and He offers the gift of free salvation to ANYONE who will accept it.  That is equality!

And by the way, if I disagree with you or something you do ... that DOES NOT mean I hate you.  It doesn't even mean 'I don't like you'.  And it certainly doesn't mean that I find you 'unequal' to me.  It just means I disagree with you.  As a Christian, I am called to love you...and to be honest, because of the way God has changed my heart over the years... most of the time, I even want to love you!  I want to show you the love that God has shown me.  I can love you, without loving your sin.

And finally, while you are screaming for all that equality for ALL, could I ask you one favor?  Will you truly consider equality for all?  Will you give Christians the right to have an opinion without deeming us as 'haters' and 'homophobes'?  Too much to ask?  Fine.  Then will you consider equality for ALL regardless of their age or 'ability to contribute to society'?  Will you consider equality for the unborn?

Just thoughts to chew on tonight.

I'm sorry if I've come off as sarcastic this evening.  I'm sorry if you feel I've been rude.  Like I said, I'm just feeling a little weary.  



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Monday, November 5, 2012

Apologia~Journeys of Faithfulness

 I have to apologize ahead of time for the excessive amounting of gushing that is to come in the following paragraph.  I'm sorry, but it must done...

I am continually amazed at how Apologia Educational Ministries does it again and again.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore.  From the time we first opened an Exploring Creation Science text (and we've been through most of them), to Apologia's Worldview Curriculum, to most recently reading I Don't Have enough Faith to Be an Atheist offered by them, we have been enamored.  But more importantly we have been inspired, we have been educated, and we have been drawn to the heart and the word of God.  I mean, surely at some point even the most trusted company will produce a product that this opinionated mama isn't absolutely in love with, right?  So far, Apologia keeps proving me wrong... 
Last month I was sent a copy of Journeys of Faithfulness: Stories of Life and Faith for Young Christian Women written by Sarah Clarkson and published by Apologia.  Now, I must say that I am pretty sure that I no longer fit the category of how I would define a "young" Christian woman, especially considering that the age recommendation by Apologia for this book is ages 12 and up.  So, I was a little hesitant about how relevant I would find the book.  I soon found that I had no reason to worry.

Journeys of Faithfulness is a bible study, a devotional, and a collection of engaging biblical fiction stories all wrapped into one.  The book is divided into four parts each devoted to the stories of a biblical heroine/s.  The Table of Contents is as follows:

Part One : Mary & Martha
                   Chapter One: Learning to See
                   Chapter Two: A Circle of Glory
                   Chapter Three: The Hush of Love

Part Two : Mary, Mother of Jesus
                   Chapter Four: Story-Formed Soul
                   Chapter Five: Swords and Starlight
                   Chapter Six: The Great Adventure

Part Three: Esther
                   Chapter Seven: Heart Alive
                   Chapter Eight: For Such a Time
                   Chapter Nine: Courageous Beauty

Part Four: Ruth
                   Chapter Ten: Claiming the Light
                   Chapter Eleven: To Walk in Darkness
                   Chapter Twelve: Desire of My Heart

Each chapter is also divided into four parts.  In each chapter, you will first find a short story.  Sarah Clarkson has artfully crafted twelve short stories based on the biblical stories of these historical women.  I'll be honest, my favorite genre is biblical historical fiction but I consider it a rare find to find an author who does it well.  I want to read a book that is riveting and inspiring, that offers me an escape but delivers me safely to worship at the feet of the One who created me.  If I am going to read a work of fiction, I want it to inspire me.  Sarah Clarkson delivered with each chapter.  Obviously, she has taken some liberty when writing, but she still stays true to the biblical truths of each story.  Her stories offered new insights into the lives of these women that I thought I already knew so well.  Miss Clarkson, if you are reading, I am hoping to see full novels in your future...I will be first in line to purchase them!  I hope you stick with biblical's my favorite. :)

Following the short story, each chapter contains a devotional written by Clarkson that is a few pages long.  Once again, I was impressed with how Clarkson wrote truthfully and transparently.  As a fellow "wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve" kind of woman, I appreciate that Clarkson was willing to share her struggles and the truths that God led her to.  I agree that the material in both the stories and devotionals are suitable for ages 12 and up, but don't let the "young" label stop you from delving into this book if you are quite a few years away from age 12 like me!  These devotionals would be suitable for all ages and stages of womanhood.  As a matter of fact, I found God gently convicting me almost immediately at the beginning of this book with Clarkson's following passage:

"The Spirit of God is alive and calling out from the very core of our hearts.  We have the Bible available to us, and we can offer a prayer at any moment.  But the great requirement is that we be still enough to listen.  We must hush our hearts every day so that we can learn, hear, and follow." 

Finally, each chapter includes a bible study and several lined blank pages to record your own personal "Journal Journey".  The bible study includes 3-5 scripture passages chosen by Clarkson that relates to the story lesson to be looked up as well as life application questions. 

I would definitely recommend Journeys of Faithfulness by Sara Clarkson.  It is a beautiful study and book and at only $13, it would also make great Christmas gifts for the women in your life!  Be sure to check out the Apologia website to read a sample first chapter and the Schoolhouse Review Crew for more reviews of this product.

Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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Friday, November 2, 2012

Activities in a Bag

The first time I heard about Activities in a Bag was about five years ago.  Another local homeschool mom was coordinating a Preschool Activities in a Bag swap.  Since my kiddos were in 2nd, 1st, and K and I had 3 little ones under that, I was certainly intrigued.  I signed up to participate, was sent instructions to make 20 of the same "activity", then met up at a local park to swap.  I came home with a large brown grocery bag filled with 20 gallon size bags, each with a different preschool activity.  I was hooked!  My kids were hooked!  And I have been recommending Activities in a Bag ever since!

So how do they work exactly?  Well, first you will need to purchase a  Preschool Activities in a Bag ebook.  (If you are coordinating a swap, only the swap coordinator needs to purchase the ebook, not everyone participating.)  Currently, there are two volumes.  You can purchase them for $15 each or $27 for both.  I received both volumes for review.  If you are coordinating a swap, you may also want to download this Coordinator Handbook for FREE!

 Your ebook will contain instructions and printables needed to create over 30 activities.  (ebook 1 has 34 activities and ebook 2 has 33).  Each activity requires simple household item and should be placed in a gallon ziplock bag.  Affix the included label with instructions to the front of the bag for simple, educational activities to pull out at a moments notice.  Preschoolers will stay busy with these fun bags while at the doctor's office, while you are homeschooling older siblings, or fixing dinner...or just because they don't want to stop having fun!

Here are a few pics of our bags...

This activity is made up of printed puzzles that are laminated.  Puzzle pieces are printed on different color cardstock and all three puzzles are kept in one bag.

Beads are strung on a string to create a long, bendable "rope".  Preschoolers can use the included shape cards to practice making shapes with their beaded rope.

 This number recognition activity includes beads for counting out numbers.  Students can pull a card, count out the beads, then flip the card over to count the dots and see if they counted correctly.

Now, as I said before, I had participated in a Preschool Activity in a Bag Swap years ago, so I already had most of these bags.  But I jumped at the chance to review the ebooks, so that I could revamp my bags.  Admittedly after five years of play from my many children, some of the activities had been lost or emptied of their contents.  As I read through the ebooks (which include detailed instructions as well as helpful printouts to keep your swap details organized), I am thinking that I will also organize another swap.  It's perfectly fine to purchase one of these ebooks and just make a couple of activities at a time.  But it is so much easier (and I think more cost effective) to get 15 moms to each make 15 of two different activities.  And quite frankly, with a kindergartner, preschooler, and two toddlers I know that I would love to have more than one set of these activities!

The activities in Preschool Activities in a Bag cover many different skills from number recognition, letter recognition, beginning phonics, patterns, shapes, colors, fine motor skills, sorting, and more.   Many of the activities require simple supplies that you will most likely have on hand.  For example, one activity calls for plain paper, crayons, and paper clips.  Other activities will require more difficult to find items like foam letters or a dowel rod.  This is another reason why I would prefer to do assemble bags for a swap than individual bags.  I don't mind going to the hardware store and buying 15 dowel rods, knowing that another mom is going to a craft store for foam letters.  It saves time, money, and energy to do a swap.

Both Preschool Activity in a Bag ebooks 1 and 2 are outstanding resources.  I didn't favor one over the other, but felt that they were both equal in giving a variety of preschool age appropriate activities that were fun and educational. 

Here are a couple more pics of L4 enjoying Preschool Activities in a Bag.

We keep our activities in a plastic tub in our closet.  We've also participated in swaps for Reading Games in a Bag and Math Games in a Bag Science Experiments in a Bag ebooks are also offered.  Finally, I also had the opportunity to review Travel Activities in a Binder.

I was excited about this, because I knew my big kids would love it.  Plus, it was super simple to put together.  All you need is printouts from the ebook, a binder, plastic page protectors, 3 ring zipper pouch, a thin dry erase marker, a piece of felt (to use as an eraser), and a die (only used in two of the activities).  I quickly had two copies printed out and put together two Travel binders for my kiddos!

 As you can see, we fit our supplies into the zipper pouch.  Over 40 fun travel activities (like tic-tac-toe above) are included in your ebook.  More activities include ad libs, hangman, counting cows, road sign bingo, mazes, the license plate game, and so much more!

Our kids have been having so. much. FUN. with the travel binders!  They've even been playing them at home!  Travel Activities in a Binder are definitely most suited for children who are reading and writing.  My younger children were able to play some of the games with help from their big siblings.  But for the most part, it has been my 2nd-6th graders who have enjoyed these games the most.  At only $15 for the ebook, I think this is a great buy.  I will definitely purchase any additional Travel Activities in a Binder ebooks that are to come!

Also, don't miss the opportunity to get an Activity in a Bag sampler for free, just by filling out a simple survey at the Activity in a Bag website.  You can also read more reviews of these products at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog!

Disclaimer: I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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