Cutest Blog and Widdlytink

My Stick Family from

Sep 27, 2017

Worthy Publishing Secret of the Hidden Scrolls ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

New author M.J. Thomas has written two fantasy adventure novels for children.  The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: The Beginning (Book #1) and The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: Race to the Ark (Book #2) were just released by WorthyKids/Ideals.  These are the first books in the series, The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls.

    In The Beginning, we meet nine year old Peter and his sister Mary, who is ten.  They, and their dog Hank, have just said goodbye to their parents.  They're spending a month with great-uncle Solomon.  I am supposed to tell you now that the punks think he looks like Albert Einstein.  Uncle Solomon doesn't know much about children, but he has a big, old house full of cool archaeological finds.  He also has a locked library and a secret that involves a glowing earn full of sealed scrolls.  He can't open them, only the chosen ones can.  But a poem tells him there is great adventure for those who follow the lions roar.

    The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls

    In the middle of their first night, the children are awoken by a lion's roar in the hallway!  They find that the library door is now open and the hidden scrolls in a secret room.  Maybe Uncle Solomon can't open the scrolls, but they accidentally do, and are immediately transported to...  Where?  They don't know.  It's pitch dark and they are floating!  Until a voice booms. "Let there be light!"  Now brightness fills the...  everywhere?

    After another day and night of floating, the voice booms again, and they splash into the water!  There's no land in sight!  Now what do they do?  Well, thankfully, the angel Michael has been dispatched with a little rowboat to rescue them.  And that's when he lays out the rules.
    1. They have seven days to solve the secret of the scroll or they are stuck "there" forever.
    2. You can't tell anyone you are from the future.
    3. You can't try to change the past.
    Here's the problem with the scroll.  It's written in Hebrew.  And they've already been "hanging" around for three days!  Well, God creates dry land the next day, and trees and plants (which is *wonderful* because they are sooooo hungry!), then He hangs the lights in the sky, and still they don't know any of the three words on the scroll.  Time is getting short.

    The children have adventures with dolphins and a shark, a charging (playful) rhino, a mischievous monkey, the loss of the scroll, and a snake.  Thanks to Mary's book smarts, the kids' karate lessons, and a reappearance of Michael, the snake is defeated and the puzzle of the scroll is solved.  They're whisked back to Uncle Solomon's house and find that they've only been gone a few moments.  He is excited that the children are the chosen ones, then tells them how the story in the garden ends.

    In Book #2, Race to the Ark, we find bored children several days after the first adventure, waiting for the lion to roar again.  We don't have to wait too long, but this time Uncle Solomon has quickly packed a bag for them to take.  Too bad he didn't send them any food.

    The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls

    They end up in the woods and decide to walk north, using the compass in their bag o' stuff.  They find a walled city full of angry people.  When they mention God, they find out that the Dark Ruler who lives in the temple in the center of the city doesn't much like for people to talk about God.  Jakar and Darfus, two child-thugs with a wolf, try to steal Hank and the bag the children are carrying (which now holds the scroll!).  Using Uncle Solomon's hatchet, they are able to get away and God sends a strong wind to blow a gate closed, protecting them.  The angel Michael, helps them find a safe place to sleep in their tent, also from the bag.  The same three rules apply, but this time, they have to puzzle out SIX words. 

    That night, they hear a lot of loud noises and in the morning, their tent is surrounded by hundreds of footprints.  They follow them to Noah's ark!  Noah and his family all welcome them and the help they offer, and they are happy to feed these children, finally!  The children learn that the earth has become covered with darkness and evil, and that God is going to wash it clean.

    The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.  Genesis 6:5 NIV
    The children can't help but think about how beautiful and perfect Eden had been.  As the ark is prepared and God tells Noah the time is near, they help the family load the animals into the ark and care for them.  (There's a lot of poo scooping with that many animals.)  But wait!  The door has been broken by an elephant and Noah needs a new hinge.  The children go to the city to get one and are captured by Jakar and Darfus and taken to the temple where the Dark Ruler rewards them and locks the children in his dungeon.  He tells Peter he met them before.  He had been a snake.

    Michael frees the children, grabs the hinge, and they get to the ark only to have to battle the Dark Ruler and retrieve the scroll before the rain comes.  As the water swirls around them, they struggle to figure out the last word in the scroll.  As soon as they do, they return to Uncle Solomon's library, where he gets out his red Bible and tells them what happened during and after the flood.

    The prologue in book two gives a brief synopsis of book one, so it can be read as a stand alone story and still be understood what is happening.  Each of the books is a paperback, just over 100 pages long.  After the stories, there are Bible references so your children can read the actual accounts in the Bible.  M.J. Thomas wrote these books for his own son to learn about the Bible in a fun, exciting way.  I would say the 6-10 year old range is a good age to enjoy these stories, but I don't know if a six year old could actually read these books.

    The punks had a lot of fun trying to figure out the words in the secret messages.  They would get so excited when they guessed right.  I am teaching a spy training class at co-op and I bet the kids would enjoy solving puzzles like these.

    I think the stories would be a fun, safe way to explore about the Bible's exciting accounts.  I would definitely recommend discussing the factual details against the fantasy aspect of these books.  The stories are easy to understand, not scary for the littler listeners, and they get to see good overcome evil again and again.

    Find Worthy Kids/Ideals on social media.

    The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls. {WorthyKids/Ideals Reviews}

    Crew Disclaimer

    Sep 25, 2017

    Heirloom Audio Captain Bayley's Heir ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

    Heirloom Audio Productions has done it again!  I love to say that.  Their audio dramas are spectacular and we {bigfatpuffyheart} listening to them all.  Again and again.  This time, a young, British gentleman travels to America and experiences the gold rush and the old west.  In Captain Bayley's Heir, Frank is accused of a theft at school.  He is about to be publicly expelled and humiliated.  Unless he confesses.  Well, you know how kids are.  Be falsely accused of a crime and decide to go to America to clear your name!

    This installment of The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A.Henty actually has a bit of a slow seeming start, as it isn't until track 8 when Frank finally heads to America.  When I say "slow start" I don't mean the beginning is boring, only that it seems somewhat unrelated to the whole traveling to America thing.  Only it wasn't unrelated.  We have to meet all those important characters in Frank's life and understand their relationships with him and the kind of young man he is.  And though the story is about Frank's coming of age in America, we never leave behind his British family and friends as they struggle to understand *why* Frank ran away and just *where* might he be. 

    There seemed to be a lot of foreshadowing in this installment.  Maybe there always is and I just never noticed it before.  I kept thinking, "Ah-ha!  I knew it!"  It made me feel very smart.  Although, I didn't tell the boys certain things, sometimes when we'd pause the CD I'd mention something and ask them why they thought it was included in the story and what they thought it could mean in the future.  It was kind of fun to see them thinking through all those hints.

    Of course, in a series of amazing coincidences, we do find out just *who* is Captain Bayley's heir.  This is where there was a bit of that foreshadowing, because you know all these seemingly unrelated incidents have to tie into the story in some way.  Once you figure it out, you just keep waiting for the players to finally piece it all together.

    All through the audio, Frank would interact with new people and my "stranger danger" alarms would be triggered.  Someone had to be the antagonist, right?  Thankfully, most of the people he happened across were good people, even some godly people, and were helpful in ways that it seemed they were put together by providence.  At one point, Frank receives $200 for something helpful he did.  The boys were shocked to know that was nearly a year's pay for the employment he had at that time.  Aside from Frank, my favorite characters (and were they ever characters!), were the trio of Abe, Rube, and Dickens.  Abe becomes a wonderful good friend to Frank after he and his friends take him under their wings.  They teach him all he needs to know about survival in the west, and surviving the trip to get them there!  Their colloquialisms had us rolling!

    Mal was very disappointed that they were in the old west, but there were no trains.  The timing for that was just a wee bit off, but he quickly decided he could enjoy the amazing adventure even without a steam locomotive!

    There was relatively little death in Captain Bayley's Heir (mostly characters we don't actually know), which was a nice change after In the Reign of Terror!  But near the end, someone important is said to be dead and the punks and I were all wracked with grief.  I may have felt a flash of anger at Henty at that moment.

    I promise it all turns out alright in the end!

    Brian Blessed, as GA Henty, has become the voice of Heirloom Audio Productions for me.  Every time I read one of their Facebook posts, I "hear" it in that voice.  The cast, as always, is phenomenal.  There are always a few regulars in these Heirloom audio theater productions.  Some of the voices, I recognize in each drama.  Some actors portray more than one character and they are so incredibly talented, that I never confuse their characters by voice.

    This particular Christian audio focuses very much on God's grace and forgiveness and we are treated to listening a bit to Amazing Grace a couple of times.  It is hands down one of my favorite hymns.  I always prefer it with bagpipes, but any singable version will do.  Now that I've heard it on a solo violin, though, bagpipes might have some serious competition.

    The bonus content for Captain Bayey's Heir includes
    • A study guide
    • Captain Bayley's Heir e-book
    • A printable cast poster
    • The official soundtrack
    • The quote poster, which this time features a line from the hymn "Amazing Grace."
    • Desktop wallpaper download
    • Access to the actual script on Live the Adventure Club.
    The bonus material is part of the new Live the Adventure Club that Heirloom Audio Productions now offers.  While there is a fee to join this community, it includes three physical CDs each year, shipped to your home, as they are released.  The club is much more than that, though.  My Library at the Live the Adventure Club includes access to all the extras for each CD that I own, either through reviews or personal purchases.  I am also able to purchase access to the remaining two audio dramas at a discount right through that library, if I decide to do that.  I also have the ability to listen to the Old Time Radio Vault which houses hundreds of historical radio broadcasts.

    A Constitution course, a recipe for Hangtown Fry that miners ate (they had me until oysters!), Kids' activities (coloring pages, crosswords, and more, all related to the audio dramas), inspiring stories and devotionals, and an active forum all round out the Live the Adventure Club content.

    I highly recommend using the study guide as your children are able.  There is so much more to them than just the Listening Well comprehension segment for each track.  Some of the things we accomplished because of the study guide
    • John Newton and Amazing Grace (Newton was a slave trader for decades, who many years after becoming a Christian, was greatly grieved by his prior career.)
    • Important names from the Gold Rush era (These included John Sutter and Wells & Fargo.)
    • How the men lived on the gold fields (Miners staked claims and lived in tents or shanties
    • The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (Interestingly enough, it became federal law under Vermont's own Chester A Arthur.  Something we can all be proud of.  *eyeroll*)
    Firstly, the study guide has a credits page, a bit about GA Henty for those who are unfamiliar, then the main study guide begins.  Generally, we listen through the entire recording over several sittings.  This usually happens in the car because the punks focus so much better than they do at home where there are so many distractions.  The next time we listen, we employ much of the study guide.  Each of the 20 tracks on Captain Bayley's Heir has a page or two spread.

    The first section is Listening Well, which is the comprehension segment.  While older kids might have no trouble pausing the CD after each track and answering the questions, we still have a bit of trouble with this.  I often give the boys an idea of the topics they should be listening for before we listen to the track, then we pause it and answer the queries.  The Listening Well segment, is fact based and is mostly not up to interpretation.

    Next is Thinking Further.  Here, some more abstract questions might be asked that require a deeper kind of thinking and making inferences.  The Vocabulary includes words like "incorrigible," "oblige," and "affirmation."  Normally, I have the punks put at least a couple words in their ongoing, personal dictionaries after looking them up.  This time I was much too slacky for vocabulary.  Nobody wants summer to end.  The randomly placed boxes for Expand Your Learning have some great topics to research or discuss: such as manifest destiny, money in Victorian England, and mining camps  There's also a great book list to learn more about Victorian England and the American West.

    Usually, there is a recipe in the study guide, but there was none in Captain Bayley's Heir.  It's just as well, I guess.  None of the punks would eat beans and I have not found a cornbread recipe I really have liked, though I have eaten good cornbread.  I'm not sure campfire food would be a hit here!  *smile*

    You can even read along with the script and complete the Listening Well section online as a graded quiz.

    God's Grace was a major theme throughout Captain Bayley's Heir.  The first Bible study in this study guide focused narrowly on the topic of grace.  The second study was about becoming a Christian and the third directs children to honor their parents.  An abundance of verses is at the heart of each study, making it very sound.

    The one thing about the study guide I do not like, and I say this every time, is that the pages are not black on white.  You will use a considerable amount of ink if you want to print it, because the pages are a dusty, kind of brownish color this time.  I prefer to have paper in hand, not try to juggle the computer while pausing and starting the CDs.  I might could try to think up a better way to handle it, but the CD player is in a different area from our school stuff.

    Captain Bayley's HeirThe two compact disc set runs for about 2 hours and 40 minutes total.  The actors, sound effects, and musical score complement each other so perfectly.  Captain Bayley's Heir and the other Heirloom Audio Productions audio dramas are a super fun way to get in some history.  Malachi recently told a friend that history is his favorite subject.  I'm pretty sure that is, at least in part, due to Heirloom Audio Productions and the immersive style of audio dramas.

    Find Heirloom Audio Productions on social media.

      Captain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

      Crew Disclaimer

      Sep 21, 2017

      Let's Go Geography ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

      I've always admired kids who participate in "bees" for spelling, Bible, or geography.  In grade school, I was a decent speller, but I was not a spelling bee level speller.  And Bible or geography?  Not a chance!  Our world is getting smaller and smaller all the time and geographic literacy is more important than ever.  Unfortunately, most young Americans have very little knowledge of the world outside of their very small local area.  Many do not even know the United States well.

      That's why a homeschool geography curriculum like Let’s Go Geography is such a valuable tool. 

      I received a subscription to Year One of Let's Go Geography, created by Carol E. Henderson.  It is all online, but it is easy to download the PDFs to save on your computer for use wherever and when ever you like.  If you're worried about the space, you can just access the weekly curriculum right from the website by logging in and selecting Account from the navigation bar.  From there, you can manage your log in information, payments, and subscriptions.  A click on subscriptions takes you to a list of products available for use.  In my case, that is the geography passport and the year one membership.  The curriculum can be used by one teacher for an entire family or co-op classes.

      Let's Go Geography

      This is year one of a planned three year curriculum for grades K-4th.  Each year will cover two US regions and 26 foreign countries, visiting each continent.  Obviously, there are more countries than that, but this curriculum will provide an excellent overview of the entire world.  This year, at least, the bigger punks are joining Merrick and me.  They haven't complained once in five weeks!  It's a great jumping off point for the older two (grades 5 and 6).

      Year one can also be purchased in a two semester option.  This would work great for a semester of a co-op or year of a co-op that meets every other week.  You could even use this option to study geography in the summers.

      With about an hour each week, the lessons consist of the following sections:
      • Are You Ready? ~ This is a sort of cover page with the capital, largest city, language spoken, population, and area in miles.  The next page lists all the things you may need to complete the assignments (books to read, a craft, and a travel journal).  One nice thing is that the author lists the Dewey Decimal call number for books that would be appropriate for the country or region you are studying.  There are definitely books available in other sections, but these will get you off to a very good start. 

      • Map It! ~ There is a link to a map (or maps) to print, instructions for coloring and labeling, and especially learning to read ("Explore") the map.  The punks did things like label oceans, identify neighboring countries, and marking capitals.
      • The Flag ~ Several flags are on a page to print.  You will be directed to color (although the flags are actually outlined in color), cut out, and attach the flags either to the included continent's flag page or to the available "passport."
      • The Music ~ This lists the lyrics of the national anthem and has a link to listen to it on youtube.
      • Let's Explore ~ Trivia!  A few facts about the country or region, photos, and links to videos to "tour" the area.  Some links are especially for kids a bit older.  You'll find those on these pages, along with a reminder to check the printables section for notebooking pages.
      • Create ~ Here's the craft!  Some kids, especially those in early elementary, live for this section (actually, Xav loved this part, too!).  There is also a coloring page of the area (also in the printables section).
      • and Printables ~ Yippee!  The part mom likes.  *grin*  The notebooking pages, the coloring pages, and the extra flags.

      The 36 weeks of lessons include four break weeks: weeks 9, 18, 27, and 36 (which actually doesn't count because the program finishes up on week 35, but if you schedule your school out into 36 weeks, you might need to know that).  There are three regional review weeks for North and South America (week 12), Europe and Africa (week 24), and Asia and Oceania (week 34).  Week 35 is a
      Final Review week which includes games and the end of year project, which is a "memory suitcase."

      We were going to take a look at week 12's review lesson this week, even though we're actually only on week six, but I have some miserable sickies right now and so I'll just tell you about it from looking at the lesson.  The sections are the same as the regular lesson, minus the music.  First, the map is for North and South America together.  A list of the countries that have been taught to that point are on the next page and students are advised to color and/or label each country as best they can from memory.

      Better than that, though, they are now learning about maps.  This review section has activities about the compass rose, cardinal directions, and latitude and longitude.  There is a flag matching activity for each of the eight countries, some more trivia, and a match the country to a picture.  The answers are included for all the questions.  The printables section contains a coloring sheet of animals and a notebooking page for each *continent*.

      I really appreciate the weekly email reminder which arrives in my inbox to tell me HEY!  Go download your pages, print the maps, and gather your supplies.  It doesn't actually say that, but it's a nice reminder, so in the every day hoopla, you don't let the geography go by the wayside.

      The "color the flag" sections are outlined in color.  I'd rather they were black ink only so children can compare the actual flag and figure out how to color it.  Children in this age group are generally capable of doing that and I don't have a color printer, so that would be a great option.  I'd love to see all the flags for the year on one or two pages with the black line only or color options.  This would make it so easy to print the number of copies needed for each student.  Stickers would be a great alternate option, if you have someone who wouldn't want to color more than the maps.

      Let's Go Geography

      Merrick is so excited to be doing school more often with the bigger punks this year.  He loves having his own pages to do the same things they are doing.  He's almost offended when I print him a coloring page and they get a notebooking page! 

      Let's Go Geography has been a really fun way to study our world.  I'm looking forward to continuing this curriculum with all three punks.

      Find Let's Go Geography on social media.

      Let’s Go Geography {Reviews}

      Crew Disclaimer

      Sep 18, 2017

      Barbour Publishing ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

      Today, Xavier and I are writing to tell you about Barbour Publishing's new Imagine Series for the middle grades.  We were given Imagine. . .The Great Flood for review.  You can read an excerpt from Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich at the Barbour Publishing website if you'd like to get a feel for the story.

      This 112 page paperback takes place at the time of the Flood of the Bible.  This chapter book is fiction for ages 8-12.  I found that to be an accurate range for readability and content, though there are a few short, intense sections for younger readers.

      Normally, I would read a book like this aloud to all of my punks, but this is how it came down in our house this time.  I read the excerpt ("read a chapter," which is linked on the book page), which is actually about 2.5 chapters.  I let Xavier (age 10) read the download as well, to gauge his interest.  The sample ends just as the book is getting exciting (clever), so he certainly did want to finish reading it.  When the book arrived, he took off with it and finished it in about a day.  He is turning into a voracious reader.  Then I never saw it again until a week ago when I told him I also needed to finish reading it for this review!  I then finished it up in an afternoon of several interruptions.  All that to say, it is not a long or difficult read, but you may need to help a bit with some names and words.

      The book begins in modern day Texas with Corey, his mom, and their dog Molly.  Corey is unhappy about his family's impending move to Florida for his dad's employer.  Corey's mom wisely tells him, "... sometimes things change, but God never changes."  Shortly after their conversation, Corey falls in the woods and hits his head.  He wakes up in Mesopotamia 2400BC.  He is quickly joined by Noah's son Shem who immediately welcomes him into his family and the ark, then enlists his help guiding the animals to Noah.

      Shem and Corey are attacked several times by the nephilim (giants) and later also by Elizar, some sort of sorcerer.  They even face betrayal!  When it begins to rain, all of the local people also want to enter the ark.  Obviously, that isn't going to happen!  Corey is drowning and the story allows us to think it is Noah pulling him out of the water, but in the end, he is waking up in the forest where he was first injured.  We immediately are whisked to Florida three months later, with no further information.

      Corey's adventures help him to see many parallels between his real life and what he was experiencing both during the adventure and after, in his new home in Florida.  He learns to rely on God and he often prays in times of trouble, throughout the book.  His reliance on God is definitely a main feature in the story.

      I was left wondering what exactly was the point, though.  Many questions were left unanswered.  Here are a few:
      • Who did Corey see and hear in the woods when he blacked out?  He sees a man near Molly and hears someone say, "Open his eyes," and yet, the book takes us, not really back to the woods, but to a beach in Florida three months later.
      • Why did Elizar, the bad guy, want Shem's staff so badly?  Shem mentions that as long as he holds the staff the animals will obey him, but that staff is broken.  I'm assuming the replacement staff has the same quality, but by this point in the story, it is obvious to *everyone* that the world is going to be completely flooded, just as Noah said.  (I'm *pretty* sure Noah and his family did not need a staff to control the animals.)
      • *Why* did this whole thing even happen?  I get that the story is meant to show Corey relying on God even when it seemed it would do no good.  Several times parallels are drawn between his modern situation and the Mesopotamian adventure.  I didn't think it really exposed a solid reason for the events Corey experienced.

      All in all, it was a decent "kid adventure."  I had to reread the Biblical account due to the amount of embellishment, but any time you are sent to read the Bible isn't really a bad thing.  In Genesis 7:11, we can read that "...all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened."  So while the nephilim's fight with Noah's family is fictitious, the broken earth with water gushing from it seems to be factual.  Elizar was made up, but he mentions his master, presumably Satan, and multiple gods which were certainly a terrible influence on people of that time.

      IMAGINE... The Great Flood

      What did Xav think? 
      It was a good book.  It was easy to read.  It was about how hard it was for Noah's family to build the ark even though other people made fun of them and wanted to destroy it.  I liked it when the giant got bit on the leg by the lions protecting Corey.  It was exciting when Corey went down the rapid river.  I think the giants died on the river bank when they tried to catch him.  I think Corey got sent back to the flood time so he would think about moving and that other people sometimes have to move, too.  But Noah's family relied on God.
      I'm not exactly in agreement with all of his points, but I can understand where he picked them up.

      About the Author
      Matt Koceich is a public educator, living with his family in Texas.

      Imagine. . .The Great Flood is not as much Biblical fiction as fiction that just happens to be set at a Biblical event.  And, yes, there is a fine line between the two.  *smile*  If that detail is "no big whoop" to you and you are looking for some clean, wholesome reading, there are more books planned for the Imagine Series.  The second release in this Bible adventure series for kids, Imagine...The Ten Plagues, will be available in March 2018.

      Find Barbour Publishing on social media.

      Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich {Barbour Publishing}

      Crew Disclaimer

      Steamtown Part 1 ~ Field Trip Friday {AKA V is for Vacation}

      A couple of weeks ago (or way more now!), I told you about the trip we took to Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY.  While we really enjoyed seeing April the Giraffe, Oliver, and Tajiri, and the other animals, the main vacation destination was Steamtown in Scranton, PA.  I may have mentioned a time or two that the punks [warning: understatement ahead] like trains.  Dad planned the whole trip as a surprise.  And happily, Xav is a fourth grader and Steamtown is managed by the National Park Service.  That means we all received FREE admission through the Every Kid in a Park program.  Truthfully, admission isn't that high anyway.  The entrance fee was, surprisingly, only $7 per person for ages 16+.  Extra charges applied only to the Scranton Limited train ride which was $5 each, ages 6+.

      Today, I'm just sharing the basics for this destination.  There was FAR too much to cover in one post.

      First, we drove to Scranton on the 4th of July.  It was not as terrible as you might imagine and that was probably due to the fact it was a Tuesday.  We stayed at a hotel with a pool and that is basically enough to keep the boys happy.   HOWEVER, we were able to see multiple firework shows throughout the town from both the pool and our room.

      The punks didn't actually know in advance where we would be going.  We told them before bed that night and, let's just say the response left a lot to be desired.  They were so "meh" about the whole thing.  All I did was hope they would be way more excited when they actually got it.  Merrick also got a little surprise that night.  He got a cute little indoor tent in which to spend the night.  Three boys in a queen size bed is a no go.  Two in the same bed leads to plenty of kicking, pushing, and growling until sleep is finally reached.

      In the morning, we had breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts just down the road, then we headed straight to Steamtown.  I wish I had a video of the punks' reactions!  My preteen boys, literally, squee-ed when they got the first glimpse in the parking lot.  "It's the Big Boy, the Union Pacific Big Boy!"  Sadly, I thought the Big Boy was in pretty rough shape.  The boys thought it was the most incredible thing they'd ever seen.  Maybe it was... so far!

      We didn't stay outside for long, though.  We had a train to catch!  Xav got his official "every kid in a park" card, we paid for our train tickets and headed inside.  We didn't have long to wait for our train ride and since that was almost the first thing we did there, I'm including it here.  Everything else we did will be in next week's Steamtown Part 2 post.

      First, let me tell you, I was *shocked* to learn that, until the 1980s, Steamtown was located in Vermont!  Then the funniest thing happened.  Our guide turned out to be from Vermont and, until a few years ago, worked for the same company Daddy did.  Small world.

      This is what happens when you wait too long to write up your post, you forget details.  I could research these details, but since I'm not finding them quickly, I'm just going to have to let them go.  *tries not to sing*  You can thank me later.  Anyway, we learned about the family who ran the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.  This was one of the earliest rail lines in northeastern Pennsylvania.

      This Ramada Inn used to be the Train Station.  We didn't go inside, but did see some pictures online.  The family certainly believed in doing things up lavish-like.

      We need a Part 2 post because I took so many pictures of our day, it wasn't even funny, but I knew I'd need them for the Train class at our co-op.  *justifies*

      Homeschool Discount -Discount for 4th graders and their families, but not for homeschoolers specifically.  Reasonably priced, either way.
      Educational - History, Science, Technology, Art, Math (in the gift shop!)
      Family Oriented - Yes.
      Duration of Visit - 6 hours+.

      A Net In Time Schooling

      Sep 15, 2017

      Autumn Fun at the Apple Orchard ~ Field Trip Friday

      We had a rainy Field Trip Friday to the apple orchard.  And I left my umbrellas in the car, even though it had already sprinkled on the way there.  sigh...

      I also left Malachi in the car.  It was easier than dealing with his grumping about the sprinkles and he's old enough to read a book and vegetate in the dry, warm vehicle.  When I got back to the car and placed the apples in the back, he had turned the heat up and it was nice and toasty.   It's only September, so it will be a while before he will relent and start wearing warm clothes.

      We all got together for a group photo.  We *may* have been running late because a sign told us the road ahead was closed, but when we took the detour, we realized the road *south* of where we needed to be and we would have been fine had we just kept going.  sigh...  Yes.  It was one of those sigh filled mornings.

      Next we hopped on a wooden wagon and headed off to the orchard.  The pickers are men from Jamaica who have been coming to the orchard for 25 years now!  On the way to the lovely red beauties, we learned a bit of apple trivia.

      I will post the answers to these questions at the end of this post.

      1.  Why can't you bob for pears like we do for apples in the fall?

      2.  Which countries produce the most apples?

      3.  What is the only apple native to this country?

      4.  How many apple varieties have been here in the USA?

      Think it over and see how well you know the answers.

      The punks *loved* the apple train where the pickers would unload their precious cargo.  The bags they carry have a fabric bottom that can be released, lowering the apples gently into the carts.  No dumping happens here.  We wouldn't want bruised apples in the store!  They also thought the shape of the ladder was interesting.  It's very narrow at the top.

      My happy apple pickers.
      We didn't let the sprinkles stop us from enjoying the orchard, but our seats were wet when we climbed back aboard the wagon.  A few clever souls remembered umbrellas and rain ponchos.  But we are hearty, hear us roar.  Also, I don't think Mrs. E and Mrs. C are properly using this *plastic* poncho.  Kids, don't try this at home!

      At the store, we shopped for a few yummy items and Merrick and his friend got to pet the chicks.  Then we said goodbyes and headed home.  If it hadn't been raining, there were donkeys to pet and a picnic planned, but why stir the pot when it had been a very fine day? 

      I hope you get out this fall and enjoy apple picking, pumpkin harvesting, or even a fun corn maze!

      Now, like I promised, here are the answers to the trivia questions.
      1.  Apples are as much as 25% air, which allows them to float.  There is almost no air in pears, so they would sink.  (I actually have not tested this, but I think it would be a fun experiment to do with your kids.)
      2.  We were told the largest apple producers (in order) are China, USA, Turkey, Poland, and Italy.  A quick internet search suggests that India may have bumped Italy from fifth place.
      3.  Crabapples are the only apples native to North America.  Other types were brought from Europe in the 1700s.
      4.  At one time, there were over 16,000 (that's THOUSANDS) varieties of apple in the US.  There are now only 7,000 varieties here.

      Sep 12, 2017

      Progeny Press, The Silver Chair ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

      Progeny Press is a company which produces quality literature study guides written from a Christian perspective.  The Gilleland family homeschools and operates Progeny Press.  Some guides are written by the Gillelands and some by others.  Each unit study is peer reviewed by pastors and teachers before release. 

      My punks are getting older, and the literature they read should also be aging with them.  We enjoy the Narnia series and were happy to read one book of C.S. Lewis' famous saga for this unit.  The Silver Chair E-Guide (Grades 5-7) by Carol Clark, is an interactive guide, as are all the electronic titles in grades 4-12.  This means that the 52 page file can be opened in Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader and filled out on the computer.  The student can then use the Save As feature to save the e-guide with their work in the document.  A parent or teacher then can use the included answer key to check the students answers.  Many of the answers are in a short essay style and could not be automatically graded, regardless.

      Silver Chair - E-Guide

      It was simple to download the interactive e-guide and answer key.  A copy of The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis is required to complete the e-guide.  You can order a copy of the book from Progeny Press or elsewhere, check the library, or look on your shelf at home.  I have learned the hard way to check my bookshelf first!  Though you may want to save the money by borrowing from the library, due to the time commitment it would make more sense to borrow from a friend or purchase a copy.   You'll also need a Bible, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.

      The Silver Chair Study Guide is available as the instant interactive e-guide, on CD, and as a printed workbook.  Each version has different aspects that you might want to consider before making your purchase.  The e-guide provides instant access and is reproducible within a family or classroom.  It cannot be resold like a book, nor can it be returned for refund.  I really appreciate the instant access of the e-guide and that I can use this again when Merrick is older.

      The length of time required to complete a Progeny Press Study Guide is approximately two months or more.  The earlier grades do take less time than the upper grades, though.  In The Silver Chair E-Guide, you cover two to four chapters at a time.  If you are new to Progeny Press, I do suggest you read over the short Note to Instructor.  It's only a page or so, and will give you a rough outline of how the guide is intended to be used and how to use them for high school credits, as well as a bit of other information about usage.

      The first few pages also include a brief synopsis of the book and an author biography.  Prereading Activities are suggested for the first week.  In this particular middle school level e-guide, reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is recommended as one of the main characters in The Silver Chair happens to have already visited Narnia in that installment.  Other ideas include learning about caves and researching "allusion" and related places/things from the novel.

      Then the lit guide really begins with five pages covering chapters 1-2, with "Vocabulary" written in context, "Questions" about the actual text of the story (#5 List the four things Jill is to remember.), "Thinking about the Story" (foreshadowing, simile, etc), "Dig Deeper" (which requires a bit more thought to answer and also brings in Bible ties), and two Optional Activities.  Each week is similar, sometimes requiring Bible readings, dictionary searches, or suggesting discussion or writing topics.

      The e-guide ends with some after reading activities which include writing, drawing, and designing activities.  This is followed by a list of related book titles.  Some are other of C.S. Lewis books and others are just books that readers of The Silver Chair might enjoy.  Several of the books in the list also have corresponding guides available from Progeny Press.

      The nine page answer key arrives as a separate file.  It is just the answers.  While some of the answers can only be right or wrong, some of the answers are a bit more essay style and will be up to a bit of interpretation.  To grade the subjective answers, a parent or teacher would be required to also be familiar with the book.  I always enjoy these questions with Xavier.  He (ALWAYS) has a lot to say, but it's nice to chat with him about how he felt about an event that happened or how a person behaved, rather than Lego or Minecraft!

      We did not use The Silver Chair E-Guide every day.  It was summer after all, and though we school year round, the punks definitely deserve some short days or even days off in this very abbreviated Vermont season.  We do sometimes do more than one page in a day, though, so having finished reading chapter nine and completed the corresponding section of the guide, we are more than half way through the study guide in about 6 weeks.  We discuss different parts of the book as well as completing the work in the guide, but we don't really do much with the Optional Activities section.  The activities look great and I'd love to do them, but the punks are on the low end of the range for this e-guide and I opted to keep us moving through the book (which keeps them attentive) rather than have them spend a considerable amount of time on the extra things.  You know your family best and I'm sure many fifth graders would enjoy that part.  I know *I* would have, once upon a time.

      I read the book out loud, completing the chapters for the section before we started the Q&A parts.  Many of the questions, we answered orally as we sat together.  Sometimes, this works great for us and other times, Xavier monopolizes the question and answer session and I have to be very intentional about giving Malachi the opportunity to give his answers.  He tends to automatically answer, "I don't know," without giving it any real thought, while Xav is chomping at the bit to respond.  I have to back one up and just sit and wait while the other thinks it through.  Do you have that one kiddo who just wants to answer everything like it's a race?  Having them write answers is more time consuming, but often gives my "reluctant to answer" child a chance to shine.

      Another thing we do a bit differently with the literature study e-guides from Progeny Press is *not* using them on the computer.  With two of them working on the computer, it would take forever as they are not good typists yet.  But Mal has a real issue with writing spaces and oversized letters.  Last time I reviewed a Progeny Press study guide (The Sword in the Tree), I realized I could add lines in the editable section of the file.  Then I save it that way and now when I print the pages, lines are already there for him to write on and guide him to consistently size his letters.

      We're enjoying The Silver Chair and the Study Guide for Literature.  The punks are improving thinking, vocabulary, and writing skills.  I was surprised how attentive they are becoming as they get older.  As soon as I mentioned that the woman with the knight wore a green dress, Xav shouted, "Wait a minute, a green dress?" and the wheels were turning.

      Others in The Crew are also reviewing The Silver Chair E-Guide as well as several other Progeny Press literature study guides.  Click the banner below to see what they thought about these guides.

      I previously reviewed an upper elementary e-guide written for The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla.  While the guides are very similar, there is a marked difference in the reading and comprehension level required for the middle school level e-guide and book, The Silver Chair.
      The Mission of Progeny Press
      "To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!"

      Find Progeny Press on social media.


      Study Guides for Literature {Progeny Press Reviews}

      Crew Disclaimer

      Carole P. Roman, Author ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

      It's fun when a vendor I enjoyed comes back to The Crew another time.  Carole P. Roman
       is one of those well loved authors in this house and the punks were happy to read more of her If You Were Me and Lived In... Historical series.  They received two surprise books as well and one of them has also been added to the "well loved" bookshelf.

      The four paperback books we received are:

      Oh Susannah: It's in the Bag
      7-12 years old, 34 pages, illustrated by Mateya Arkova.

      Books by Carole P Roman

      Poor Susannah has an awful day.  It starts with *oatmeal* for breakfast and ends with a terrible nightmare about a giant, stinky backpack.  When Susannah's parents comfort her and give her practical help getting through all that *stuff,* she finds out that taking care of the small things when they are small saves us from a stressful mess later.

      The punks really enjoyed this story.  I read it aloud, even though it's a very short book (a nice change of pace for a read aloud).  I felt so bad for Susannah, as I read about her day, especially her interactions with her parents.  I self-consciously worried that the boys were comparing our sometimes busy days to Susannah's.  Just when I was feeling terribly guilty, one of the punks mentioned how lucky he was that our family isn't like that.  *whews*

      Don't worry.  They work it all out in the end.  And there is a sequel.  Xav was very disappointed that the book ended in somewhat of a cliffhanger.  "That," she explained to her mother with a sleepy yawn, "is another story."   I guess I'll be getting part two, Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump, soon.

      Winner of:
      NABE Pinnacle Award 2017 - Best Book in the category of Children's Chapter Book
      2017 Reader's Favorite  Children's 4th-6th Grade  Bronze

      Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?
      5-8 years old, 36 pages, illustrated by Mateya Arkova.

      Books by Carole P Roman

      I didn't expect much interest in this very girly tale, what with a houseful of punks.  Mal picked it up, after I placed it strategically on top of a book pile.  He glanced through it.  Xav asked where it came from.  Then they said, "Please finish reading It's in the Bag."
      Winner of:
      Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
      2017 Independent Press Award Distinguished Favorites - Children's Inspirational
      2017 International Book Awards Finalist - Children's Picture Book: Hardcover Fiction
      2017  Gold Medal Reader's Favorite Children Concept

      Now, a few things about the If You Were Me and Lived in... series.  The illustrations are by various artists throughout the series.  We really get a lot out of the books.  The books answer pretty much every question you might have about each time period: how families lived, what people wore, what they ate, and how they made a living.  Each book has a sort of main character, who is a young boy or girl.  Unfamiliar words are shown somewhat phonetically.  "Your name might have been Knut (Kah-noot) or Ulf (Ul-uff) if you were a boy, and Sigrid (Seeg-freed) or Hilde (Hill-da) if you were a girl."  The book after that is specifically about this boy or girl and their family.

      This series is suggested for ages 8-15.  I don't think that children much over 12 will really get a lot out of them, if the time or place is at all familiar to them.  The writing is large and covers, at most, 1/2 of a two page spread.  These are *great* books for the younger end of the range, though, and are packed with a ton of topics.
      If You Were Me and Lived in... Elizabethan England
      8-15 years old, 50 pages, illustrated by Paula Tabor.

      Books by Carole P Roman

      I was really excited to receive this edition of the If You Were Me... series.  We attend a renaissance faire every summer and I share a birthday with Good Queen Bess.  Not the same year, obviously!  Suffice it to say, this specific book was high on my list last year as well as this year.

      In this installment of the If You Were Me and Lived In... series, we meet the child of a busy baker.  You learn how she lives in the city, how her grandmama lives in the country, and how the wealthy sometimes built their houses into an E shape in the queen's honor.  She attend a St. Bartholomew's Fair (which really reminds me of the Sterling festival), you learn about the currency of Elizabethan England, and there's a certain scandal about her brother!  Shakespeare's Globe Theater gets a brief mention as does the changeability of religious denomination, depending on the current ruler of England's beliefs.

      At the end of the book there is a brief biography of eight important people of the time, including Francis Bacon, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh.  It finishes with a glossary with over six pages of important people, events, places, and items of import mentioned in the book and pertaining to the Elizabethan Era of 1588-1603.

      Winner of:
      Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
      2016 Homeschool Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards - Favorite History Supplement
      Shelf Unbound 2016 Contest winner for Best Series
      2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist

      If You Were Me and Lived in... Viking Europe  
      8-15 years old, 76 pages, illustrated by Mateya Arkova

      Books by Carole P Roman

      You've heard of vikings having a surname after their father (Ericson - son of Eric), apparently, daughters were also similarly named (Ericdottir - daughter of Eric).  I had no idea.  In this book, Carole talks about the travels of Vikings, to start new settlements, to trade with other civilizations, and to conquer new areas.  There are three classes in Viking Europe, you'd really not want to be a thrall.  The boy in this book can't wait to be old enough to go on an adventure on the seas upon his father's ship.

      The foods were *very* different from anything I am used to eating, especially the meats.  Men and boys hunted and fished, and girls gathered and grew some food.  Then the women would put up the food for the very long winter.  Looms and spinning wheels were an important part of every household.  Older boys were fostered out to other families to create bonds with allies.  Girls married in their teens, and though they had no say in the matter, it seems they could divorce their husbands if he was abusive.  Six of the Norse gods are mentioned, and a grandmother who makes potions and casts spells.  It's all very matter of fact and limited to a few sentences, so didn't bother me, but I did want to give a heads up about it.

      The book finishes up with a bit about eight important Viking men and women, followed by the nearly seven page glossary.

      Winner of:
      2016 Homeschool Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards - Favorite History Supplement
      Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
      Shelf Unbound 2016 Contest winner for Best Series
      NABE Fall 2016 Pinnacle Book Achievement Best Books in the Category of Writing Winner
      2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist
      2017 Reader's Favorite Silver Medal Nonfiction Historical

      I previously reviewed If You Were Me and Lived in Ancient Greece and three other If You Were Me... books.

      A nice bonus for these books is included on Carole's blog.  Some of the books in this series have a set of questions for discussion and even writing prompts for deeper thinking.  I found these very helpful on the second read through of the books.  I don't consider them worksheets, per se, but you could use them in that way, if you wanted to.  I LOVE this book series.  I think it is a fun way to pack a lot of information into a small package and could be used for a jumping off point for many, many rabbit trails for curious learners.

      Carole P. Roman has authored more than 35 children's books and series.  Carole's books have, collectively, won over 100 awards.  She started writing on a dare and began the Captain No Beard series, in which the captain and his crew learn to navigate relationship issues like patience and bullying. 

      You can find Carole P. Roman on social media.
      Good Reads 

      The rest of the Crew read some of Carole's other books.  You can check them out through the banner below.

      Oh Susannah, Bedtime Stories, Captain No Beard, If you were Me ... {Carole P. Roman Reviews}

      Crew Disclaimer

      Sep 6, 2017

      Is There Anything Better Than Candy? Box Tract ~ A Homeschool Crew Review

      If you or your church are looking for child evangelism tools, I am definitely recommending Let the Little Children Come.  Today, I'm just writing about one item they have available, but I have an assortment of children's tracts to help you share the beautiful salvation message.  I'll be telling you more about the others another day.  For now, I'm sharing this adorable little pumpkin halloween tract candy holder.

      The Is There Anything Better Than Candy? Box-Tract comes in a set of 20 pumpkin shaped boxes.  They are made of sturdy, glossy cardstock imprinted with a pumpkin design on the one side and a gospel message of salvation on the flip side.  You simply and easily punch out the template.  The pumpkin is made by folding in the six individual "petals."  Two of them have little stems on the end that hold the entire thing together.

      I appreciated that this halloween tract is not frightening.  I don't mean frightening because it's halloween related, I mean frightening in the fire and brimstone kind of way.  Does that tactic ever work?  I just can't imagine Jesus wanting children coming to him only because they are terrified.

      These little pumpkins are about 2x3 inches when closed, so there are plenty of small treats that will fit in them.  I managed to try out a few candies here.  Some things that fit:
      • funsize/bitesize candy bars (I tried an individual peanut butter cup and a tiny pack of three whoppers.)
      • a few hard or chewy candies (I had zotz, sweetarts, laffy taffy, pack of two starburst, and they all fit.)
      • licorice (With some coiling, I got two individual twizzlers in the pumpkin.)
      • a lollipop (My caveat with this, the stick was a bit long and I tore the last petal when I closed it up.  I bet a safety pop with no stick would work well.)
      • Candy corn and other small candy (which would need to be bagged up to keep them inside the pumpkin).
      • Pumpkin Spice tea bags!  (Trust me on this.  Have a MOPS group at your church?  Do you host a "tea and testimony" or similar get together?  Moms would take these home and show these to their children while sipping a lovely cup of tea.)

      There are many uses for these little pumpkins.  There are the obvious Trick or Treaters, Trunk or Treaters, and harvest festival attendees.  I thought about giving these to the students in my co-op class about Native Americans, when we discuss harvesting at Thanksgiving.  But every year, I half-heartedly consider reverse trick or treating at a local nursing home.  That's where the trick or treaters dress up and deliver treats to the residents.  Our co-op is having it's second annual service day in the middle of October and one of the things we did last year was prepare music for them and "do the chatting."  That would be another great option.

      A few other ideas for handing these out could include opening them with your Sunday school class or youth group, handing them out with the youth group, scavenger hunts (which the Dad is very good at organizing), table favors for harvest dinners, or as a gift at a reading of The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs. There are so many ways these versatile little boxes can be used.

      I wish they could be folded in a way that enabled unfolding the "petals" in order.  By that, I mean the first you unhook would be #1, the second #2, and so on.  Numbers 1 and 4 are across from each other on the open template and have the stems, so they need to be closed first.  The only problem I see with the numerical opening order is that the numbers on the open segments could not circle round the template 1-6.  But I think being able to *read the message in order* as the pumpkin is opened would make more of an impact.

      By the way, the answer to the question "Is there anything better than candy?" is YES!  "It's being God's friend."  This tract *sweetly* explains God's love, Christ's sacrifice, and how to accept this special gift of salvation.

      Next month, I'll be telling you a bit about some other child evangelism products available from Let the Little Children Come.

      Find Let the Little Children Come on Facebook.
      Is There Anything Better Than Candy?  {Let The Little Children Come Reviews}

      Crew Disclaimer