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Apr 28, 2016

Things We Do For PE in Our Homeschool - Swim Lessons

Grandma and Papa provided swim lessons for the boys.  As usual, only Mal and Xav were able to participate, so Merrick was bored and displeased.  He behaved himself, but it wasn't as good as swimming, too.  Miss Laurel is a terrific teacher.  The boys all loved her right away.  She had Xavier floating on his back, sort of doing a front crawl, and kicking himself along on his back during the four weeks we spent with her.  Mal still hates to get his face wet, but I think if he had to, he could dog paddle.

If family members ask what they can give the kids for birthdays or Christmas, lessons are a great option.  And they don't take up more space at home.

Apr 27, 2016

YWAM Publishing TOS Crew Review

We really used to enjoy using unit studies, but have gotten away from them with the hoop jumping I've been feeling the need to perform for the state.  YWAM Publishing has just what we needed to bring some fun back to school.  One of our favorite units when the boys were small was about the moon.  YWAM's Heroes of History title, Alan Shepard: Higher and Faster and the corresponding Digital Unit Study was a great introduction to this company.

We received the book in the mail and an email to access the Alan Shepard digital unit study.  The book is a 240 page paperback with a recommended age range of ten and up.  It covers Alan's life beginning with his pre-teen years in East Derry, NH. 

I quickly downloaded the files and found that they opened up in a nice site with tabs and a nifty design, but I couldn't get to the files.  I called my gEEk over and he quickly found the source documents so I was able to open the PDF files.  That's all I really wanted anyway!

The main study guide PDF consisted of the following sections.
  • Key Quotes
Quotes by Alan Shepard and other related notables are listed.  These can be used for memorization, inclusion in a unit display, copywork, or any number of other uses.
  • Display Corner
    I think the favorite part was creating our display corner. 

  •  Vocabulary
Last year, I started a simple dictionary for Mal and Xav to each have.  I just put 26 pages in a portfolio folder, each page labeled with a letter of the alphabet.  We used it for a while, then changed to a vocabulary workbook.  With this unit on Alan Shepard, we got them back out and began writing out the vocabulary word for each chapter, looking it up in their dictionaries, determining which definition applied if there was more than one, then writing a brief definition in their own words.  This part could get time consuming with them, but I think the dictionary practice was well worth it.  They seem to be able to remember more of the vocabulary words this way.

  •  Questions
  1. One factual question
  2. Two comprehension questions
  3. Two opinion-type questions.
I chose to let them answer the questions orally and we had some great discussions some day.  The answer to this section can be found in Appendix B of the digital unit study.
    • Student Explorations
    These are an assortment of tasks that you could choose to assign that include essays, creative writing, arts and crafts, A/V, and hands-on projects.  The boys are currently making rockets with their dad, and Xav and I look at moon topography maps, which were a couple of the hands-on items in the list.
    • Community Links
    These are ideas for classroom visits and field trips, an excellent list.
    • Social Studies
    This extensive section has ideas for several geography studies that relate to Alan Shepard's life, a timeline (Appendix C), a much longer list of related terms and vocabulary.  One nice thing in this section is that the words are cross referenced to the page of the book that they first appear on.
    • Related Themes to Explore
    Want to incorporate cross-curriculum learning?  This is a good place to find related topics to study in other subjects at the same time you study this Alan Shepard biography.  We call those rabbit trails and we run down these, unplanned, often!
    • Culminating Events
    Plan a fun party and invite friends and family to hear all about Alan Shepard and his life.  Show off what you know!
    • Appendix A is a related book and resource list, beginning with other biographies, and including articles, websites, and videos.  Several other YWAM Heroes of History biographies are tied in here also.
    • Appendix B - Chapter questions answers.
    • Appendix C actually is a separate file and contains the reproducibles needed for the Social Studies activities in chapter 6.
    The Alan Shepard Digital Unit Study lists far more activities than I could do on one go 'round with the boys.  I really appreciated the variety of projects for all ages that YWAM provides.  I was able to choose selections that were both enjoyable and educational.  My punks certainly like the read aloud aspect we chose to use (no one can complain that someone moved their bookmark, because they weren't both reading it simultaneously) and, surprisingly, answering the chapter questions and discussing what was happening in the book.  Merrick was sometimes able to be involved, which made him a happy guy.

    Some of the activities, I thought, will be better suited to Redhanded Homeschool when the boys are a bit older; essay questions, for instance.  I anticipate being able to use the Alan Shepard digital unit study again in junior high or high school.  And I'll get to be much more hands off!

    Find YWAM Publishing on social media.
    The YWAM Publishing Blog

    Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}

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    Apr 21, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in Our Homeschool - Ski Lessons

    Can you believe Dad and I have never had a ski lesson in our lives?  Well, good gravy!  We live in ski country.  The family was able to get group rate ski lessons with our homeschool co-op, but we also have heard of other homeschoolers who are willing to organize lots of random people for group lessons.  Some charge a fee and some do not.  If you're in a ski area, call the mountain and ask if they have group rates and if they know of anyone who organizes trips like this.

    On off peak days, the bigger boys can each ski for $20.  That includes lesson and rentals (skis, boots, and helmets).  Another $10 each would give them access to the lift. 

    Merrick can't get official lessons yet, but I *think* he can next year.  I'm looking forward to not having to sit in the yurt entertaining him.  He gets so upset that he is never allowed (old enough) to participate with his brothers.
    Cocoa in the yurt.

    Apr 20, 2016

    Wonderfully Made Book Review

    Do your children always seem to hit you unawares with questions about where they came from, how did they get there, and what did they eat in there, anyway? I have some curious kiddos with lots of questions.  Especially Xavier!  Oh the questions!

    Wonderfully Made: God's story of life from conception to birth is a delightful look at life in the womb from conception to birth. It describes, in simple terms, what babies look like, how they spend the time in the womb growing and practicing all the skills they will need for life outside the womb. The best thing about this book, is that there is no content that would make me reconsider leaving it out for the children to access any time, on their own. This had been a stumbling block with some books I had picked up which provided much more detail than I may have been ready to share. And really, sometimes the littles haven't even asked those questions yet. Wonderfully Made is tactfully written from a loving mother's voice directly to her children, just as I might tell my guys “their stories.”

    At many places, the size of the baby was compared to familiar items.  A nail head, an apple, and a ruler were all used for reference.  The only confusion we had was week eight and nine.  In week eight, the baby is described as the size of a pencil sharpener and in week nine, an olive.  Our pencil sharpener is pretty big and I had one guy ask if the baby shrank!  They learned which organs were being formed when.  It was a pretty complete introduction to how babies are grown.

    Scripture is sprinkled throughout the book and the gospel message of Christian rebirth is shared at the very end of the book.

    The illustrations are colorful and somehow soothing to look through. We enjoyed watching this little babe grow and develop. The other children throughout the illustrations are precious to watch just being kids and the contrast to the developing child helps little ones grasp that they were once just like that.

    Your preschooler to age ten or so (Mal is 11 and enjoyed it) will almost surely love this look at the miracle of life in the womb. Wonderfully Made is a wonderful addition to your home library.  I purchased a second copy as a gift for an expectant friend and her children because I liked it so much. They also enjoyed it.

    I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to post a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions are my own or those of my family.

    Apr 19, 2016

    A+ Interactive Math TOS Review

    We have some math learning gaps.  It isn't because we don't cover everything they need for math.  Some things just don't stick.  We often go over things regularly, but we can miss a few days and then everyone forgets to carry, can't estimate, and doesn't know how to divide.  It's frustrating for me, but it's especially tough for the boys.  They're sometimes pretty hard on themselves.  A+ Interactive Math now offers Math Mini-Courses along with their regular math lessons.

    I chose two courses, one for each of the bigger littles;
    • Time (1st-4th) - 20 lessons for Malachi, and
    • Money (1st-5th) - 18 lessons for Xavier.
    This is a basic review of the concepts needed to learn the mini-course topics through a certain grade level.  This varies with the courses selected.  The Parent Dashboard enables you to assign the courses to your student and set up their A+ account login and password.  Here, I can also see grades received on each of the video lessons.  A completion date is also listed, but that must be entered manually.  I also can print the questions for the lessons as a math worksheet for table work.  Since we hook the laptop up to the television, which is easier on the eyes, the worksheets work well for us.  Also, it's handy paper for working any arithmetic.  The questions have been pretty much the same online as the worksheets, so a few times I've just entered the answers from their papers online so it's all recorded in my reports.  I don't know if that's the case with every lesson through to the end or in all mini-courses.

    After I log off, one of the boys can log into the account I set up for them.  Then they launch their class.  The program doesn't remember where they left off, so I try to keep track so they can go straight to the appropriate lesson in the menu.  A couple of times, we've clicked ahead of where we were and had to close the box that wanted us to mark the lesson complete so we could go back where we belonged.  Once it was quite insistent that I should mark it complete.  I just closed the whole window and relaunched the course.

    The lesson is a video and a pleasant sounding woman's voice which reads the video screen to the punks.  Generally, she will read a few screens worth of information before the questions start getting asked.  I'm not sure if you are *supposed* to be answering the questions during the video, but there is barely a pause between asking a question and "If you said ____, you're correct."  It drives the boys bonkers, so I need to be standing there to pause the video the second a question is asked so they have time for a breath, a thought, and to answer.

    After the bulk of the video lesson, an online Question and Answer session begins.  As I said, this is also where I could enter in the answers the boys wrote on their math worksheets, if I wanted.  Most of the questions are multiple choice.  Some questions require an answer to be entered manually.  After typing the answer into the spot indicated on the screen, there is a frog on the screen which needs to be clicked on to submit the answer.  If you miss the frog, the system will not receive the answer and the section will not be scored properly.

    Once the lesson and questions are completed, you then manually mark each lesson completed with the date.

    If your child is experiencing any learning gaps in math and enjoys a no-frills audio and video lesson, you may find just what you need at A+ Interactive Math.

    Other Math Mini-Courses include:
    • Counting and Identifying Numbers (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Place Value and Number Combinations (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Naming, Comparing and Arranging Numbers (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Fractions (1st-3rd) - 10 lessons
    • Early Elementary Addition (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Subtraction (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Elementary Geometry (1st-4th) - 19 lessons
    • Elementary Algebra (1st-4th) - 27 lessons
    • Tables, Charts and Graphs (1st-6th) - 17 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Multiplication (2nd-6th) - 13 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Division (2nd-6th) - 15 lessons
    • Measurements and Conversions (2nd-6th) - 23 lessons
    • Number Types and Conversions (3rd-6th) - 35 lessons
    • Ratio, Proportions, Probability & Statistics (3rd-6th) - 14 lessons 
    • Decimal Numbers (3rd-7th) - 20 lessons
    • Advanced Geometry (4th-7th) - 35 lessons
    • Advanced Fractions (4th-8th) - 26 lessons
    • Percentages (5th-8th) - 13 lessons
    Find A+ Tutor Soft on social media.


    Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}

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    Apr 14, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in our Homeschool - Tae Kwon Do

    Master Snyder offers weekly, after school classes at several schools in our area.  He also has summer lessons and a day camp.  We opted for lessons at the smaller of the two closest elementary schools.  Tae Kwon Do is Malachi's "thing."  That's not to say he is great at it, but it's where his body and brain are becoming strong and being trained.  He's learning a lot about self-control and listening, which is very beneficial for him.

    Xavier and Malachi both attended lessons for a few weeks, but it quickly became clear they just could not participate together.  Since Xav also takes archery lessons, we decided to pull him from TKD and Mal started doing much better.  Merrick is devastated that he never gets to do any of the things we find for the big kids.  Hopefully, next year, or the following year, he'll be old enough for Tae Kwon Do.

    Now, to participate, we did need to sign up for the school's after school program.  TKD was not an included class, so there was a charge that we pay our instructor.  We did need to be "official" with the school, though.  We were welcomed and invited to participate in the activities that were offered on other days as well.  When we arrive, the boys can, and often do, participate in the snack program right before everyone disperses to their activities.

    Check with the local school districts or other in-the-know parents who might be able to fill you in on this type of Phys Ed option.

    Talking Fingers TOS Review

    Talking Fingers Inc. is (from the website) an "Innovative Phonics-to-Fluency Software for Hands-on Reading and Spelling."  Normally, I wouldn't have copied anything from the website, but I really felt that was one of the best tag lines I've ever read.  Before we were assigned Read, Write & Type for review, I decided to try out the demos on the website, so I set up the school laptop.  I started the parent demo and before I knew it, Merrick snugged right up beside me and Xav was hovering over my shoulder.  After poking around a bit, I excused myself.  I barely left the room and Xav was sitting in my chair, pushing buttons.  They played around until I came back.  I was trying to show Xav the "home row" when I decided to change him to the kid demo.  The three of them were roaring with laughter and yelling advice to each other for an hour!

    I knew I would definitely get Xav an account.  He's at a good age for it, not a bad reader (though not a great speller), and with decent coordination.  I really was undecided about another account for Malachi or Merrick.  I ended up speaking to someone at Talking Fingers Inc., asking if maybe Mal and Merrick could share an account because I didn't think either would get a ton of use out of it (because Mal's coordination is pretty poor and he doesn't like the character in the program, and Merrick is only 4), but they like to be included.  Kris was super helpful and kindly offered them both an individual account and talked to me about how each could specifically benefit. 

    Read, Write & Type was developed for children approximately ages 6-9/grade K-2, kids with learning disabilities or reading difficulties, and for English as a second language learners (with voice-over help in Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog).  Merrick is four and he was all over this program.  He did need some help from me, mostly with spelling.  And he can only type with one finger.  He definitely isn't ready for actual typing instruction, but the use of phonemes instead of letter names had him typing CVC words alone and the short sentences with help.  I set Merrick's requirements very low in the parent dashboard.  He only needs a score of 50% to pass and move on to the next level.  We share lots of woo-hooing and high fiving!

    Xavier needs to achieve an 80% to pass into the next "spaceship" (level) of the game.  He still hunts and pecks and doesn't use the home row (called power ups) accurately, but I see the improvement that regular practice is giving him.  He finds the keys more quickly and is also learning to spell better.  He still finds some phonemes difficult, so this is a great way to reinforce that.   As he progresses, he earns a certificate which can be printed out. 

    The game takes place at a computer where two hands talk the children through rescuing all of the keyboard letters (people and animals) from Vexor, a blobby green alien.  Using various activities, they must beat Vexor to return the letters to their proper place on the keyboard.  Once all the games are completed, based on the score set by a teacher/parent, the letter is safely returned to it's apartment window.  The boys love all of the things that Vexor does during the games to win by cheating, or things that happen to him when he loses the section.  It's pretty amusing to see a curtain fall on him or a trapdoor open under him.  Sometimes, they get all riled up because he will move their points to his side, but something ridiculous always happens to thwart him.

    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

    There is no marked starting or stopping point for the session, but it is simple enough to stop after a letter is returned home.  If you need to stop at any other point, the program remembers where you left off and you'll start back at the same place when you log back in.  At various points throughout the activities, there are fun books to read.  These can be saved on your computer as a PDF.

    Malachi says
    I was embarrassed.  Germy man is loud.  And annoying.  I think it might be made for babies and toddlers.  Besides, I already know how to spell and type.  You know that.

    Xav says
    I like the thing at the fountain where you have to spell quickly and if you are quick enough, Vexor gets a shower.  I know where some of the letters are on the keyboard now.
    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

    Merrick says
    Vexor sucks me into his space ship.  When you finish, you get a story part. I like when bad things happen to Vexor in the movie theater.  I learned to spell /k/ /a/ /t/ and /s/ /a/ /t/.
    So there you have it.  Three yeas (counting mine) and a nay.  Mal can spell pretty well, but he is a hunt and peck typer.  He obviously doesn't know how to *actually* type.  His review amuses me to no end because, today, he told Xavier not to type until he finished his math and he could watch.  Not do.  Watch.  sigh...  Vexor does kind of creep him out, but he can't get enough of watching.  He covers his ears while he watches his brother play.  It's hard to type while covering your ears!

    I especially like that phonemes are used in place of letter names.  Merrick knows his ABCs, but we have been practicing phonics and this is great reinforcement for him.  It's funny, when he writes now, he is making the letter sounds and trying to read words.  He's very good at beginning sounds.  And he just loves this keyboarding program.  It looks a bit outdated and I was a wee bit skeptical before we used the trial, but I can't recommend Read, Write & Type enough.

    Read, Write & Type and Wordy Qwerty (grade 2-4) both correlate with standards in all 50 states.

    Find Read, Write & Type/Talking Fingers on social media.

    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

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    Apr 8, 2016

    Stopmotion Explosion TOS Review

    One of the best things about being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew is that not only do we get to review fantastic home and homeschool related products and tell you about them, we get some input regarding which things we really want to look at.  That way we are using items we, and our readers, might find the most interesting and useful.  When Stopmotion Explosion showed up on my radar, I may actually have begged for this review (I did it for *you*!).  My eight nine year old had been taking bajillions (I'm sure that's a very accurate estimation) of still photos with his ancient iPod for months, but no one had any idea what to do with all of those pictures.  Enter the Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit.

    The Animation Kit includes everything needed to create stop motion videos.
    You can read the first two chapters of the book online (there are 17 chapters in all).  This book taught us all we needed to know to create movies, from writing our story and building the sets to the use of proper lighting and film editing. 

    All kinds of items can be animated.  We worked exclusively with toys, mostly Lego and some Thomas the Tank Engine vehicles.  You can also create animated videos with clay, stuffed animals, and basic things like string.  The options are as endless as your imagination!  The Stopmotion Explosion content hub has tons of fan videos, tutorials, and other cool stuff to inspire your creativity.

    Stop motion film animation has been around since the dawn of cinema.  I'm dating myself a bit, but I remember watching Davy and Goliath and Gumby on weekend mornings at my Grandma's house.  Art Clokey created both of those shows.  Many Rankin/Bass Christmas specials used stop motion animation.  My kids are much more familiar with Nick Park's work which includes Wallace and Gromit.  Even the original three Star Wars films (episodes IV, V, VI) have used stop motion.  Remember the game played by R2 and Chewy in A New Hope?  "I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the Wookie win."

    Xavier didn't know that I'd requested the Stopmotion Explosion Kit for review because I didn't want him to be disappointed if we weren't selected.  As soon as I knew though, I told him and he was very excited.  Then I told him it would probably be a few weeks before it arrived so he wouldn't badger ask me every. single. day.  He was so excited when it arrived!

    After running to tell Malachi, he got right into the included book.  There aren't many books he will read as happily or completely as he read Stopmotion Explosion.

    He and Dad used the Quick Start Guide to make their first video the very same day.  Actually, Xav made many videos on many days!  He made some mistakes, like not paying attention to what extra stuff was in a shot (people moving in and out of the background, getting your hand in a shot, shadows, and lighting changes), not sticking his base plates down with putty like we did with the camera, and not focusing the camera.  We did learn that the camera is very difficult to focus.  The ring just does not turn easily.  Otherwise, this actually was a very simple process.  We learned from our mistakes and moved on to improve our videos in time.  Micah showed Xav what to do once and he was able to teach me himself so I could make a video with Merrick.

    For the first attempt, they created a car chase.  This was pretty simple.  They worked in the hallway that day and I think they had better lighting results there than some of the films made in the living room.

    Merrick and I made a video together also.  I let him move one of the two trains we used.  It's a perfect example of tacking down your base.  He kicked and tripped over one of the tracks so many times!  But it was "his" movie and he's only four, so I just let it go.

    The whole process can be very time consuming.  It takes about 12-15 stills to create one second of a movie.  When I see a stop motion film that is many minutes, or even an hour+ long, I have a whole new appreciation for that kind of effort.  Interestingly enough, while we were learning about stop motion animation during this review period, I heard about the full length film Loving Vincent that is being made.  The movie is about Vincent VanGogh.  Instead of using 12 photo stills per second, they are creating 12 *oil paintings* per second. All painted in the style of Vincent VanGogh.  Amazing!

    What Xav thought.
    One minute movies are really hard to make.  I've only gotten up to twenty three seconds.  Making videos is easy.  The book says what to do.  Making the videos and watching them is fun.  The camera that came in the box is the most interesting thing there is.  I learned not to use your iPod because the making movies pack (Stopmotion Explosion Kit) is much easier.
    Here's our first completed video using Audacity and Windows Movie Maker to throw it all together.

    I would definitely recommend the Stopmotion Explosion Kit for anyone interested in learning about and creating stop motion videos.  It isn't difficult to learn, even for a non-techy like myself.  With practice and patience, you can learn to make a lot of different, fun videos.

    Find Stopmotion Explosion on social media.

    Stopmotion Explosion Review

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    Apr 7, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in our Homeschool - Gymnastics

    I'm waiting, perhaps a bit impatiently, to see what classes our small community recreation committee will be offering this summer.  Usually, the options are team sports which we just don't enjoy as much as the more individual activities.  Last year, Mal and Xav were enrolled in a gymnastics class.  The classes were held at the elementary gymnasium and, luckily for the instructor, the boys participated at two different times.  Seriously, that is one bit of advice I offer whenever we participate in any class, activity, or organization.

    In 2014, I reviewed the book A Life in Balance about Frank Belgau and written by his son Eric.  In the appendix, I found suggestions for watching and analyzing children's movement to gain insight into their learning abilities by using many of the (very fun!) activities listed. I realized quickly through that observation that my boys could use more of this type of physical activity to develop not only their bodies, but their brains as well.

    A larger town over has a much more active rec committee, but the trade off is financial.  Non-residents pay significantly more to take advantage of those classes.

    Look into your area recreation committees for free and inexpensive phys ed options.

    Apr 4, 2016

    Wonderfully Made Author Interview and Giveaway ~ Danika Cooley

    Many of you may already be familiar with author Danika Cooley who writes at Thinking Kids Blog.  Danika has written a three year, in-depth Bible study for all ages entitled Bible Road Trip, as well as When Lightning Struck!, a biography of Martin Luther.  Now she has authored a beautiful picture book for preschoolers to about age eleven (although nearly everyone will love this book!).  Wonderfully Made reveals the fascination and beauty of creation of a new human from conception to birth.  Then Danika shares about another important birth.  Children learn how to become born again as Christians.

    Now you can win a copy of this new book as well as hundreds of dollars in other prizes.  Read this interview with Danika and then enter the rafflecopter below for your chance to win.  Then join us on Facebook on April 21 for a fun release party with more giveaways and freebies.

    What inspired you to write Wonderfully Made?
    One of my kids' favorite stories has always been the story of how God formed each of them in the womb, how they're special and loved, and how anticipated their births were. They loved hearing about the day of their birth. I wanted moms in other families to be able to share that story with their children using science, Scripture, and beautiful illustrations. 

    What was your main goal in writing Wonderfully Made?
    I want children to understand that they're individually and purposefully created by a loving God, and that there is a second birth into the Kingdom of Heaven available to them. Each child is unique and special, and each is loved dearly not only by their parents, but also by their Father in Heaven.
    I also want a new generation of children to grow up understanding the marvelous truth of what happens in the womb, and when it happens. I want them to know what Scripture says about life in the womb--both the creation of life and the existence of life.
    Both of those goals were heavy on my heart while writing Wonderfully Made, and I'm overjoyed to see the book available to families around the world.

    Which part of researching Wonderfully Made was the most personally interesting to you?
    Did you know that a baby's heart starts beating at four weeks? That's actually two weeks after conception. By eight weeks, six weeks after conception, all of the organs--other than the lungs--are working! And babies dream in the womb three months before they're born. How amazing is that? Learning about the development of babies in the womb was so much fun for me. I also loved going through the Scripture that talks about life in the womb.

    What are you reading right now? What authors (living or dead) have influenced you most?
    Right now, I'm reading Everyday Grace by Jessica Thompson, Pitchin' A Fit by Israel and Brook Wayne, Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley, Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, and the Gospels. Reading is definitely one of my favorite parts of my work--I read about a book a week for reviews, books with my boys, and bigger works on the side.

    What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?
    I was definitely a bookworm growing up, and I read everything I could get my hands on--some good, some not-so-good. This may sound cliche, but the book that has most influenced my life has been (and continues to be) the Bible. I've read it through many times, studied it, and it's changed me. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God's Word never returns void, that it accomplishes what He purposed it for. It has certainly changed me.
    I also love reading biographies about Christians that have gone before us. I find it so encouraging to see how God has worked in and through their lives. I also find it really interesting to read their writings--it helps me get outside of my 21st century American bias when I'm thinking through issues with Christian living and theology.

    Do you have a certain writing space, somewhere you go "just" to write your books? An office, a lake cabin, a hotel? What do you love about that space? How does it inspire you?
    We have a library that I love to work in late at night, after everyone is asleep. It's nice to be surrounded by biographies and great works while writing. Also, I just really love the room--it's filled with artwork my kids have done, and we've stuffed little mementos into the open spaces on the bookshelves.

    Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing a book?
    I love writing. Research can sometimes be tedious or overwhelming, but it's worthwhile to commit to researching well. I think it makes the story so much richer (and more accurate). 

    Did you always have a talent for writing, or is it something you wanted and needed to work harder to achieve?
    I've always loved to write. That said, writing is a craft, and like any skill, it needs to be developed with practice, and through criticism and study. I've studied writing, I read widely, and I've had a lot of excellent input from some amazing editors and writers.  

    With all of the duties that you juggle, when do you fit in the time to write?
    For me, finding time to write is the same as finding time to exercise, eat, or sleep. I consider it a necessity, so I work hard to make time for it. I've also sacrificed other activities to fit it in. I don't watch television, I prioritize my time, and I often write when I might otherwise be sleeping. 

    Is your writing style different now than it was when you first began? In what ways have you grown in your writing?
    I think it's taken me time to find my voice and hone my skills, and I suspect that I will continue to improve as a writer--we always get better at the things we practice. 

    How did you get your start in writing/getting published?
    I attended a writing conference for beginners at a local Christian college six and a half years ago. A children's author graciously sat down with me and explained what I needed to do to write for children, and directed me to a local writer's organization. I began attending conferences with Oregon Christian Writers four times a year, and writing for Christian children's magazines. My first acceptance letter came three months after that first conference.

    What do you recommend for others who are getting started?
    It's a good idea to find a local writer's organization and learn about the business. I think writing for magazines is a clarifying process, which I highly recommend. Also, if you want to reach people for Christ, writing for magazines can really extend that reach. 

    What would you say to a young person who aspires to be a writer? What advice would you give? Also, what would you tell his/her parents in order to help them be supportive in their child's efforts to pursue writing as a career?
    The most important thing you can do is learn how to write. It's also important to learn about the industry. Find writer's conferences and workshops, attend, take notes, and really learn from the authors there. Don't let rejection letters stop you--just keep working on your craft. I'd also suggest finding a mentor--someone who is already writing for publication--and humbly following their advice. Also, read widely. Read many genres, from different time periods. Practice writing, but as you do, think about what you'd like to say, and who you'd like to say it to.  

    Would your advice be any different for an adult who would like to break into the business? How?
    My agent, Chip MacGregor, always says a successful writer should have great writing, a great idea, and a great platform (the people who read your work, or listen to you speak). It's important to work on all three.
    As far as platform goes, serve your readership. For my Christian friends, really work unto the Lord and glorify Him in all you do. He is sovereign over all things, and will open the doors He wants opened.
    Really, writing professionally is a lot of work, but it's also a great opportunity to communicate, to practice your craft, and to get to know some amazing people. I feel humbled and blessed to be writing professionally.

    What else do you want readers to know? Consider your likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies, your favorite ways to relax — whatever comes to mind.
    I love to play board games with my kids, hike, paint (I majored in art), garden, and cook. I love my family, and I feel so blessed to be able to spend time with them. I homeschool my younger two, and that's just a gift. Teaching children about the Bible, theology, and Christian history is my passion--I hope to be a lifelong student, and a lifelong teacher.

    Now for the GIVEAWAY!

    To celebrate the release of Wonderfully Made: God's Story of Life from Conception to Birth by Danika Cooley, I am hosting a wonderful giveaway with the rest of the launch team. The giveaway includes a hardcover copy of the book, along with several other books and products your family is sure to enjoy. The total value of the giveaway is nearly $600!
     Wonderfully Made Giveaway

    Here is what you could win: 

    Wonderfully Made: God’s Story of Life from Conception to Birth by Danika Cooley – hardcover $9.99 value

    Wonderfully made is an excellent book that introduces a young child to the wonder of God's creation - the wonder and miracle of birth. From conception in the womb through the nine months within the mother's womb Danika Cooley takes us on a journey of discovery... the discovery of life. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." Psalm 139:13

    Touch of Life First Trimester Fetal Models $89.95 value

    Sculpted from real-life photos, these four fetal models representing weeks 7, 8, 9, and 10 after conception have a personality of their own, and the life-like feel of the skin brings home the humanity of the preborn baby in its first trimester of life. Accurately portrayed thanks to medical descriptions and photos, these little samples of life are a great educational tool for helping to understand the wonder of the early stages of human development.

    Bible Road Trip Year One Curriculum (includes Lower and Upper Grammar Notebooking Journals $60 value

    The Bible Road Trip Year One Curriculum is a 463-page digital PDF download of the full Bible Road Trip Year One curriculum for all five levels, preschool through high school. The Bible Road Trip Year One Curriculum includes the Parent / Teacher Guide and 32 weeks of curriculum schedules for all grades.

    $100 Amazon Gift Card $100 value

    Enjoy shopping with a gift of $100 + an adorable bookmark.

    Big Bible Science: Experiment and Explore God’s World by Erin Lee Green (Ages 5-11) $12.99 value

    Big Bible Science helps children and those who teach them to explore God's World and God's Word through real live science experiments. There are twenty-one different units taking students through scientific concepts such as Gravity, Friction, Animal Classification and the Nervous System. 

    My 1st Books and More by Carine MacKenzie and Philip Ross (ages 4-7) $15.99 value   

    Who is God? What does he do? Can I know Jesus? Why did he die? Children always have questions about God. They want to know what it means to be a Christian and who Jesus is. My 1st Books and More gives a year's worth and more of bible readings, devotions and memory verses.

    Living Water in the Desert: True Stories of God at Work in Iran by Rebecca Davis  $8.99 value

    One man was overcome by the missionary's kindness. Another was stopped by a vision of men in blue.  One became sick and tired of his own religion. Another saw a man named Jesus in a dream, coming to him on a donkey.  A girl found a strange book on the floor of the library and visited a secret prayer meeting. All of them eventually came to Jesus Christ for His full and free salvation, becoming missionaries to their own people. Seventeen chapters tell true stories of the Living Water pouring out on the country of Iran, even up to the present day.

    Lights in a Dark Place: True Stories of God at Work in Colombia by Rebecca Davis (ages 7-12)  $8.99 value

    Colombia has been known as a land of violence, but God is at work! Even though the Colombian people have reacted with violence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God has delivered people from burning houses . . . God has healed ones who cursed . . . God has given people dreams and visions . . . God has rescued kidnapers . . . God has conquered demons of darkness. Read fourteen true stories of the Light of the World shining in the land of Colombia, South America.

    Jungle Doctor’s Monkey Tales by Paul White $8.99 value

    The wisdom of monkeys is proverbially small. They never could remember not to get too near to the hind feet of zebra, nor to throw coconuts at Chewi the leopard, nor to look into the eyes of snakes. Luckily for his little nephews, Uncle Nyani, the only survivor of a family of seven, is always near at hand to tell them how they can live to be as old as he is!

    Jungle Doctor’s Tug-of-War by Paul White (ages 5-11) $8.99 value 

    Even by monkey standards, young Toto is pretty dim! Those baddies of the jungle, Crunch the Crocodile, Mbisi the Hyena, Slinki the Jackal, Vibi the Vulture and Gnark the crow look as though they are going to have an easy time finishing him off. However, Toto soon finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war, for his real friends, Elephant, Giraffe, Parrot and Hornbill are determined to rescue him from the clutches of the jungle underworld.

    The Bible’s Big Story: Salvation History for Kids by James M. Hamilton Jr. $4.99 

    With easily remembered rhymes and Bible verses take your child through the span of Salvation History from Creation to the Fall, the Flood to the Exodus, the Exile to the Crucifixion and beyond... James M. Hamilton writes about real history, God's Salvation History, and our future.

    Notebooking Pages Lifetime Membership $97

    1000s of topical pages, themes, and designs . . . Perfect for any subject or study A to Z! Art Study ♦ Copywork ♦ Character Study ♦ Famous Men & Women ♦ Geography (state/country studies, continental, world maps) ♦ History of the Ancient World, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, and Modern Times ♦ Music Study ♦ Nature Study ♦ Science ♦ Timelines ♦ and more!

    Mom's Toolbelt Lifetime Membership $24.95

    A customizable home management planner for every area of your life that craves order.

    Hal and Melanie Young: Mom & Dad Special: Raising Real Men (book + audiobook) plus a free registration to both Boot Camp 9-12 AND Boyhood Boot Camp. $101 value

    If this is God’s chosen gift to us, then why does it seem so hard? How can we prepare these boys to serve God when we can barely make it through the day? Isn’t there a better way? The answer is yes.

    When You Lie Down: Lullabies and Scripture Songs CD $12.97 value

    These twelve songs remind us that true rest, comfort and hope come from God alone. This music is an awesome way to experience God’s Word with your baby, kids and family. You will discover that this album will be a powerful addition to use in your personal time with God.

    Seeds Onesie- Psalm 139:13-14  $14.97 value

    Seeds Family Worship Onesie featuring Psalm 139:13-14 on the front with a small Seeds logo on the back.

    Cultivating Responsibility: Parenting Wisdom for Ages 9-12 by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN $14.99 value

    The later elementary age years are among the greatest times to build responsibility in children. Heart transformation takes place when parents use other tools than behavior modification.

    Elementary Foundations: Parenting Wisdom for Ages 5-8 by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN $14.99 value

    Many new things happen during the ages of 5-8. Children start school, develop significant friendships, learn to think abstractly instead of just concretely, and have a greater ability to draw close to God. Parenting during this stage produces a number of challenges and opportunities so you'll want to be prepared.
    To enter the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, age 18 and older. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, April 20 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be announced at the Wonderfully Made Facebook Release Party (winner does not have to be present to win, but we hope you'll be there!)
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    You're Invited!

    Join us for the Wonderfully Made Facebook Release Party on Thursday, April 21. We'll have even more giveaways and freebies, too! The party begins at 9pm EST, and you can RSVP on the event page Please RSVP!

     Wonderfully Made Facebook Release Party, Thursday, April 21, 9pm EST

    Apr 3, 2016

    A Bouquet of Blessings for YOU

    If you're a homeschooler like me (and let's face it, if you read this blog you're either a homeschooler or our family member), you're probably familiar with The Old Schoolhouse.  I have copies of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine from as far back as Fall 2009 until the quarterly copies were no longer being printed and I had to settle for FREE online access and an annual print copy.  Oh the humanity.  LOL

    Well, as part of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I've been invited to offer you three items from the Schoolhouse Store for free!   I had a time of it, choosing items that were "just right" for you.  The selection and variety of items on The Old Schoolhouse store is a bit overwhelming!  I decided to go with things that have been on my mind a lot lately; encouragement, unit studies, special needs, and communication.  I hope you thoroughly enjoy each and every one of these resources.  I hand picked this bouquet for you.
    1. A Light Unto My Path
    2. The “Me Time” Myth
    3. The Value of Homeschool Conventions
    4. For the Love of Bugs
    5. Let There Be Light
    6. Homeschooling With Young Children
    7. Light, Color, Optics
    8. From the Tree to the Table: A Maple Syrup Story
    9. Oceanography: Voyage Into a Marvelous World of Creation
    10. The Submarine: A Legend Before its Time
    11. Organize Your Homeschool
    12. Charlotte Mason and Susan Schaefer Macaulay
    13. Growing Authors and Illustrators
    14. The Shocking Truth About Electricity
    15. Simplifying Classical Education
    16. Creation vs. Evolution: Interpreting the Evidence
    17. Play What You Mean
    18. Lincoln vs. Darwin: What’s the Difference?
    19. Time Flies While History is Written
    20. Nifty Thrifty Summer Fun
    • Someplace Called Special - $12.45 value - A Look at Homeschooling Special Needs Children.  Ten real families share ten unique stories of struggle and triumph.
    • Meet parents of many different special needs children who have risen to daily challenges with faith and grace.
    • How do those with demanding circumstances get it all done? How do they cope?
    • Discover practical help to assist you with your own child’s unique learning abilities/disabilities.
    • You are not alone! This E-Book will uplift you like no other!
    • Plus there’s more!
    1. Just How Important are Communications Skills?
    2. Play What You Mean
    3.  Communication Skills and Your Gifted Child

    All you have to do is click the link on the product name (these appear in orange in this post), place one or all of these items in your cart, and use the code JGCREW16 at checkout.  Easy peasy.  These gifts are available for the month of April only.  This doesn't stop with just my readers.  You're welcome to pass the codes on to your friends.

    As I said, I hand picked these resources and so did many other Crewbies.  You probably already follow some of my fellow Crew members and will be seeing other selections from them.  You are free to use their codes as well.  Be sure to stop by The home of the Review Crew on Facebook.  Give us a "Like" and a thank you over there.  It isn't required to claim your spring gifts, but we love to hear from our readers!  Thanks for being one of mine!

    Apr 1, 2016

    April is Autism Awareness Month

    I used to spend a lot of time dwelling on how hard Malachi's autism is for me. Parenting him can be hard. Liking him can be hard. Then one day I realized *being* him can be hard. I was humbled. That doesn't mean it suddenly got easy, but my heart hurts for him way more than it does for me. Pity parties are pretty lonely anyway.

    I know many people who actually are autistic despise Autism Speaks and I get that. I'm still going to "light it up blue" for awareness this month. It's important that we start seeing all people, not just neurotypical people, as people.

    My friend, Heather Rae Gratton, wrote this and has given me permission to share it here.

    Today is World Autism Awareness day! 
    To be completely honest, I struggled with how to participate today. I know the majority of people will be "lighting it up blue" and I love seeing so many people talking about autism today and showing their support. However, what most people don't know is the the organization behind "light is up blue" is Autism Speaks and at their core they do not truly support autistic individuals and their families. The more I'm learning about them the more I'm not comfortable with their message of fear and despair associated with autism and presenting the lives of autistic people as tragic burdens for their families (There are a BUNCH of other issues I have with them. See here and here.). When I worked in the autism field before I had my boys I never thought twice about it or looked into it. I simply never thought to question them.

    But now I have two autistic boys and I have a completely different perspective on what "autism support" means. YES, I want to find ways to ease their many struggles due to autism and yes many days are harder than I ever imagined. Yes, yes, yes there is a need for more awareness and support! However, I do not wish to "cure" my boys. I can't imagine who they would be if their brains didn't work they way they do. It's so much of their personalities and what makes them, well, "THEM". They do not have a disease. Simply put*, their brains are wired differently than non autistic people. That is all. (*autism is obviously more complicated than I can state here briefly so please don't misunderstand my use of the word "simply" but it is NOT a disease like polio etc) 

    For World Autism Awareness day my wish would be a world where my boys do not think something is "wrong" with them or we have to find the "missing pieces" for them to be whole but a world that understands they are complete individuals as they are and yes, different.......but it is OK! (and back that up with more education for the general public/school system and support for families and autistic individuals)

    As I mom I want to help my boys THRIVE not "fix" them. I want them to embrace their individual unique strengths and learn how to overcome their challenges. I want them to grow up in a world that embraces "neurodiversity" not just "supporting autism". A world where we CELEBRATE minds that work differently not fear them.