Monday, November 11, 2013

Stories of the Pilgrims Audio Book (Review & Giveaway)

Jim Hodges Audio Books is the place to turn when looking for recorded historical literature.  You will find classics for ages 5 through adult.  Also, this vendor is well-known as having the largest collection of unabridged recordings of the G.A. Henty historical novels available. 

As a member of the Bow of Bronze Launch Team, I was able to review the recording of the Stories of the Pilgrims  from Yesterday's Classics with my family.  This title actually has sat on our bookshelf for years as it is used in a number of popular history curriculum.  However, I can say cracking the book was much more enjoyable for my kiddos when listening to the Jim Hodges recording.  His telling of the stories truly made them come alive.

With the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, you may want to add this 4 hours and 10 minutes of listening pleasure to your celebration.  The stories are broken into 43 chapters.  The average chapter is 4-6 minutes in length.  Perfect for shorter attention spans!  In fact only 3 of the chapters exceed the 10 minute mark.  This makes these stories the perfect break between homeschool subjects.  A treat to listen to while eating lunch, waiting a turn to do something, etc.  Needless to say, it wasn't hard for us to find time to squeeze this product into our busy days. 

Your family will get a very clear picture and overview of the pilgrims Mayflower journey, daily life, and New World adventures.  Even better, since the main characters are the Brewster children your own kiddos will be completely engulfed and engaged.  It definitely strikes a cord and makes the pilgrims more realistic and less holiday fluff when the kids are hearing the stories from the children's perspective. 

The Stories of the Pilgrims Study Guide is also available. This 31 page PDF file allows you to print copies for all your family members to study together.  It contains 11 assignments and an answer key.  Within the assignments, you will find vocabulary study, comprehension questions, map activities, Bible study, recipes, crafts and more. There is even a link to a virtual tour of the Mayflower.

You can actually download the first chapter for free.  Warning - you'll be hooked!  So, I want to make sure you know about the November Sale!!!  You can purchase Stories of the Pilgrims for $15 until the end of November and the Study Guide is $5.  Only $20 to add both to your library.  What a great addition to your Thanksgiving Unit Studies and a supplement to history curriculum!!!!


If the sale isn't fabulous enough, you don't want to miss the Ultimate Audio Book Homeschool Giveaway from Jim Hodges Audio Books.  An amazing value worth over $700!!!  Hours upon hours of listening enjoyment for the whole family.  Enter today!

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Friday, November 8, 2013 (Review) is internationally known as an online math program covering Pre-K through Algebra II/Geometry curriculum.  In fact, Pre-Calculus will be added soon.  It is all inclusive so your child is able to work systematically through the content without gaps.  However, you should know that is no longer just a math program.  An Online Language Arts Membership (2nd-4th) is now available. 

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Our family had the opportunity to review the Online Math Membership (PreK-12).  In working with, I decided to use the program purely as a review.  In the Math section, I had all three of my kids begin a grade level below, so Rachel worked through the Kindergarten questions and Jeremiah and Caleb the 2nd grade.  My idea was to give them early success with the program and identify any gaps or weaknesses. 

IXL Screen Samples

Our use of did exactly as I hoped.  The kids performed well from the beginning, were able to revisit and refine subjects we had studied previously.  The program offers immediate positive reinforcement by identifying the answer is correct.  I have a couple kiddos who truly thrive upon and need this constant boost in confidence.  They would get excited when they would answer a whole series of questions correctly. 


A visit to the rewards board was always a treat for my kids.  They really seemed oblivious to the wording on the right explaining what the number of questions answered, what concepts were practiced, and what had been mastered, instead they were all about clicking the squares to reveal what reward they earned.  Then, as siblings do, they had to compare, "I got a seahorse, did you?"  "I got a teddy bear."  Also, don't fear that your child will be left out of the rewards if he or she is struggling to master a concept.  Awards are also earned based on the amount of time the child has practiced.  Everyone is a winner with a little effort.
IXL Awards and Games

I definitely want to note some fabulous components within the framework of the program.  First, the inclusion of a speaker icon in the Pre-K through 1st grade sections is incredibly helpful.  This allowed my emerging reader, Rachel, to work more autonomously.  She is still slow using the numeric keypad and needed to ask some clarifying questions about the tasks at times, but overall, worked with independence. 

Mom and Dad are kept in the loop.  Email updates contain progress reports.  At a glance, I could easily identify the kids strengths and weaknesses.  I knew what skills were mastered and knew where to really hone in and work  through trouble spots. 

The log-in process is simple and kid-friendly.  Each child was represented by their own icon, so no one accidentally worked in another's program.  If you have siblings, you know how important their personal space can be.  Plus, as a parent, I knew I was receiving reports on each child's individual work opposed to a collective family effort. 

IXL Family Reports

 Membership Costs:
  • Math only - $9.95 per month
  • Language Arts only - $9.95 per month
  • Both - $15.95 per month
  • Either Math or Language Arts - $79.00 per year
  • Both - $129.00 per year
  • Each additional child - $2 per month or $20 per year
I encourage you to read the experience of other homeschooling families with the iXL program.  You'll see that some families used only Math, others Language Arts, and some both.  As always, you can count on the crew members to share their honest opinions.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

My Beloved and My Friend (Review)

He said with this ring I promise, and with I do she said forever
But right now if they're being honest they don't know if they'll stay together
Let's fast forward to the future after struggling on their own
They finally figured out they needed Jesus in the middle
Now I'm watching God rebuild their home

I know you're feeling like it’s falling apart and it can't go on anymore
But God is a God who knows how to heal so just give it up to the Lord
And He will restore

The words above are song lyrics from Christian artist, Chris August's song, Restore.  The kids can be heard singing every word whenever the song comes on the radio.  It has a catchy tune and is beautifully written, so I understand why they sing along.  However, as a parent, it is my prayer that in their future marriages that they are never in a position where they are singing lyrics from the first verse: 

Nobody's growing old together, we've made it easy just to quit
Love has become a negative percentage, why do we bother to commit

While ultimately who they grow up and marry is their choice, I'm setting the stage now.  I'm training them and even better modeling for them.  Therefore, it is ever important for me to take stock in, gage, and invest in my marriage.  Within the roles of minister and wife, Jon and I have attended conferences and seminars, have a library of DVD's and books, and are always on the lookout for resources that we can share with couples in our church.  Still it is important to remember, that these materials are equally imperative to us as those we teach.

Therefore, I was so excited to get my hands on Hal & Melanie Young's latest book, My Beloved and My Friend: How to be Married to Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses.  I first became acquainted with the authors at a homeschool convention a few years back.  They presented a seminar with "ballistic" and "boy" in the description, and I was hooked.  Following the conference, I read their book, Raising Real Men, and truly became convicted and altered some of my opinions and actions in raising my sons.  I was certain that Hal and Melanie wouldn't disappoint when addressing such an important topic as marriage. 

From the authors: 

When Hal was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, it was a huge comfort to us to realize that whatever happened, we’d just written down what their Daddy thought it meant to be a man (Raising Real Men) and our boys would have that. As we talked about that, we asked, “Well, what else would we want to leave behind for our children?” and we realized we’d want our children to know how to have a terrific, Christ-centered, best friend kind of marriage just like we had – so we began to write My Beloved and My Friend.

As we’ve traveled the country speaking in the last few years, we’ve seen how so many of us are being stressed by the economy, and worn out by the business of life so that we forget to focus on our marriages. For other, their marriages are already struggling or broken, even Christian, homeschool families. They needed to know how to…
Have a more peaceful marriage, by learning to fight so you both win
Get along with your families, because leaving and cleaving is important
Be not just one flesh, but one wallet
Survive and thrive in trials, even when they’re over
Be married to your best friend without changing spouses
And lots more!

As I read the book, I heard Hal and Melanie's voices, their sincerity, even the quirky way they complete each other's sentences...  listen to one of their presentations and you'll know what I mean :)  They are REAL, authentic, and genuine.  They don't mince words, but they don't come from a position of judgment.  Instead, they offer encouragement, hope, even healing.  They speak Biblical truth.

Just a taste of the wisdom within from some quotes I liked...

God created us as eternal souls, personalities which go on forever.  In the early days of the world, a couple might live together as husband and wife for centuries.  They didn't die of boredom.   (p. 28)
Be a safe haven where they can talk through their concerns without fear of judgment.  Let them know you are on their side - always.  That's extremely powerful and your mate will never forget it when you are there for them, a safe harbor, when they feel attacked or let down by the world.  (p. 46)
 Faithfulness gives peace and security, loyalty gives joy. (p. 89)
If you live in the garden where God planted you, you find there is a lot more inside that hedge than you ever expected looking in at the gate.  It's all good.  (p.139) 
If a lady believes her husband is on his way to becoming a great man, he will be.  If she has confidence in him, he'll have confidence in himself.  If she respects him, he'll have self-respect.  If she believes in him, he will do everything in his power to live up to her expectations.  (p. 93)
We are generally busy, easily distracted, often tired, and frankly lazy.  Yet without making the effort, we risk hearts which grow cold and distant toward the One who died in our place and now claims our love and obedience.  That in turn will make our love toward our mate and family more fragile as well.  (p. 204)  
I'm truly blessed to be married to my best friend.  The past year has reiterated just how close our bond is, how deeply we share even the most mundane in life, how we delight in one another, and enjoy times both good and bad.  It saddens me when I see others who aren't enjoying the same relationship with their spouse.  Aside from praying for them and serving as an example, providing Biblical resources and wise council is priority.  I'm thankful that there are such materials available. 

The book will retail for $15 and releases in time for Valentine's Day.  However, you can Pre-Order for only $12 and have it in time to drop in a loved one's Christmas stocking or read for yourself over the holiday. In the meantime, I encourage you to connect with this wonderful couple. Read their blog.  Connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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I have self-proclaimed this month...
In college before a big recital, I'd forgo the fizz for months with no problem.  So periodically, I like to go off the cola just to prove I can still do it.  Although, it may be more difficult this time around.  The past few months I've been consuming a ridiculously large amount of pop.  If it is in the house, it is all I drink.  Therefore, it must go!!! 

I decided to have my last HURRAH tonight, and I plastered a good portion of a two-liter of Dr. Pepper.  The repercussions...  baby Eden was a spaz for 3 hours and didn't get to sleep until 10:30 p.m.  Also, it is 2:09 a.m., and I'm blogging and making to-do-lists in my head.

Hmmm... it could be a rough morning (remember no caffeine bubbles to kick-start my day) and a LONG day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bridgeway Academy - Magic Treehouse - The Middle Ages (Review)

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Bridgeway Academy affords homeschooling families the opportunity to interact with a certified instructor and classmates from around the world in a virtual classroom setting.  One way this is accomplished is through Learning Labs - Online Homeschool Co-ops.  The learning labs are conducted in a 9-week term and retail for $145.  The class offerings are cross-curricular and include a number of elective choices for elementary through high school students. 

We were able to review an elementary learning lab designed for students in grades 1-5.  Our selection was Magic Tree House Social Studies - The Middle Ages.  The second book from the popular Magic Tree House series, Knight at Dawn was the catalyst and foundation for the more in depth study of this time period.  Already a fan of Jack and Annie's adventures, re-reading this title was an easy sell to Caleb.  He gladly completed that homework assignment!

The syllabus for the course covered the following topics:
  • Overview of the Middle Ages
  • Life on a Medieval Manor
  • Lifestyle of the Wealthy and Nobility
  • Life in a Medieval City
  • Religion's Impact in Medieval Europe
  • Knights and the Crusades
  • Castles
  • The End of the Middle Ages
  • Art and Music
During the weekly 45 minute to an hour class sessions, kings, queens, knights, squires, and townspeople came alive!  Caleb learned about the entire social system and life during the Middle Ages in Medieval Europe.  He learned the geography and lay of the land - be it farms or village fair.  Also, discussed was the local cuisine, important music, art, and literature contributions, the climate surrounding war, and the structure of castles.  All of the information presented was age appropriate and tailored to the make-up and abilities of the student body.  Caleb was both informed and entertained. 

The classes were presented through the Jigsaw Meeting platform.  An open house was held prior to the beginning of the term to allow parents and students to familiarize themselves with the format.  Likewise, an invitation for each class session comes via email.  Again, you are able to test your computer prior to the lesson.  High speed Internet, a webcam, and microphone are used.  Updated Java and Flash are needed as well. 

Once in Jigsaw, the screen is divided into quadrants.  One area is the teacher via webcam, there is a space for presentations, another serves as a whiteboard for notes, and there are links to videos, PowerPoints, and assignments.  Icons are available for the students to raise their hands, communicate with others, and provide feedback to the teacher. 
The course's certified instructor was Kathi Thomas.  Honestly, I know I have been neglectful in sharing with Ms. Thomas just how appreciative I am of her preparedness, efforts, and attention to detail.  Her weekly email including a recap of what was covered in class and a preview of what would take place in upcoming classes, homework PDFs, powerpoint presentations, and videos links were key to Caleb having a pleasant experience.

Due to life circumstances (an out of state move and unforeseen computer issues), Caleb was unable to participate as fully as I would have liked.  I hate that he missed out on interaction between students and with his instructor.  However, because of the class recordings and resources made available, he doesn't really feel cheated at all.  He has learned so very much about the Middle Ages, knights, and castles.  (You can always tell when he's excited by new information for it is reflected in his play.  Yes, I heard he and Jeremiah playing as Medieval knights on several occasions :-)  Yay!)

Since we are a bit behind, he has yet to complete his culminating activity - a castle project.  However, with all the moving boxes in our garage, he has a lot of materials to work with.  He's even willingly unpacking more boxes, so he can add ones of certain shapes/sizes to his castle creation.  I can't wait to see the finished project!!!

I recommend you click below to read other's experiences with Bridgeway Academy.  Schoolhouse Review Crew members reviewed several learning labs/classes.  Some had the opportunity to use physical products as well. 


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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story (Review)

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Barbour Publishing has been in existence since the early 1980's.  The company's Christian books share the message of Christ.  It is able to proudly say it has shipped over 100 million books to date and releases over 150 titles per year.  Our family had the opportunity to review one such book, Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story.
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As a Mom, I try to seek out and choose books with which my children can relate.  In the case of this review item, Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story, it was I who could truly relate.  Having grown up in small towns, the setting of little Spooner, Wisconsin sounded all too familiar.  I recall dreaming often of growing up to finally find "bigger" and "better."  I wanted "more" and craved the experiences that my hometown could never offer.  For this reason, I identified with the main character, 10 year old Emma Jean Payne. 

Within the 192 page paperback, EJ dreams up some wild and crazy adventures including: being a queen, professional racecar driver, astronaut, circus performer, and a salon owner.  She also references book characters (think Anne of Green Gables - yay!) frequently.  This wild imagination often leaves her misunderstood and in a bit of trouble.  Well, that paired with her dealings with her brother... referred to as The Space Invader.  Ha!  I grew up with one of those :-)

By the book's end, EJ comes to the realization that you can "bloom where you are planted"... even in small, boring Spooner.  She's encouraged not to constantly live in her dreams for she will miss out on opportunities to love, serve, and care for those in need around her.  These are absolutely ideas I want my children to embrace. 

I love that EJ's parents, her father a minister and mother a teacher, play an active role in the book.  We also see other caring adults invest in and guide her.  They speak truth and encourage her.  Biblical ideas and themes are key factors in the development of the story, but it never feels contrived.  Instead, there is a very natural retelling of the story of Esther, the Christmas story, nativity scene, etc.

Since this book is recommended for ages 8-12, I chose to use it as a family read-aloud.  My 7 year old daughter and 8 year old boys all enjoyed the story.  They were attentive, engaged, and quite entertained by EJ and her antics.  We were all even known to get a case of the silly giggles on a few pages.  In addition, the kids were touched by the spiritual life lessons EJ learned and embraced the real life application.  Based on their reactions, I'd say it is safe to say they will desire to read this series in its entirety.  The second book in the series, Church Camp Chaos,  releases in March 2014.  Our family will be on the lookout!

In my opinion, for $5.99, this book is definitely one to add to your home library.  Even better... Barbour Publishing's books are all currently 25% off sale, so you can snag it at a discounted price.  WooHoo! 

Curious what other homeschooling families have to say about Diary of a Real Payne Book 1:  True Story?  Be sure and click the button below.  Then, you will be able to read the reviews of other Schoolhouse Review Crew members. 


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Friday, October 11, 2013

YWAM - Heroes of History - George Washington: True Patriot (Review)

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Earlier this spring, while attending the Teach Them Diligently conference, I was introduced to YWAM Publishing.  I was aware of YWAM's involvement in missions worldwide, but unfamiliar with the publishing arm of this organization.  It exists to provide evangelistic, educational and discipleship materials. 

Needless to say, I was WOW-ed and spent a lot of time perusing the resources  in their booth.  In fact, I left with a 10 book set from the Christian Heroes Then & Now series.  Our family has enjoyed reading missionary stories together before bed ever since. 

When I learned that I had the opportunity to review a YWAM title as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was quick to volunteer.  Having already read the title offered from the Christian Heroes Then & Now series, the only choice was Heroes of History George Washington: True Patriot.  Additionally, I was able to review the corresponding George Washington Unit Study Curriculum Guide. As expected, the title from the Heroes of History series did not disappoint. 

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Because the target audience for this title is 10 years and older, my family used this book as a read-aloud.  The content was not over the heads of my 6, 7, and 8 year olds.  However, there were some vocabulary words that needed further explanation... rich text is never a bad thing in my book! 

As expected, we found it to be engaging, interesting, and even humorous in spots.  The living book format always appeals to us.  Even more so, I'm a fan whenever character and faith are highlighted as they were in the story of George Washington's life. 

In 224 pages, 19 chapters, authors Janet & Geoff Benge, recount the life of George Washington beginning to end. The reader is first introduced to Washington as a young boy with his brothers during his formative years Virginia.  The kids learned he was a surveyor and all that the job entailed.  His military involvement in the French, Indian, and Revolutionary Wars was chronicled.  Then, the reader follows his marriage and children, his political career, his presidency, and his life after leading our country.  The final chapter shares Washington's last days and death.  No doubt, the book was comprehensive. 

Both physical and digital copies of the book are available for $6.99.

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Treasures I had only recently been made aware of (through the offerings from the Schoolhouse Library) are the corresponding unit studies that are available for the YWAM titles.  My family does not have any of these to go along with our Christian Heroes Now & Then selections, but after seeing all they entail I'm likely to be purchasing them.  For only $7.49, the 64 page George Washington Unit Study Curriculum Guide is a steal.  View sample pages
The Unit Study guide makes the book more accessible for all ages because it offers activities for children PreK through high school.  The activities are cross-curricular and appeal to the varied multiple intelligences and learning styles.  They include:  key quotes, chapter questions, essay questions, writing prompts, vocabulary, mapping exercises, crafts, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, timelines, geography skills, field trip ideas, and even a culminating event. 
You definitely have the freedom to pick and choose the components that are most beneficial for your family and circumstances.  Due to the fact that we were in the process of an out of state move during the review period, time constraints and the fact that materials were packed in boxes prevented us from doing some of the field trip and hands-on, craft suggestions.  However, I did select a couple quotes for the kids to memorize, and we did use the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  This helped me as a parent to gage the children's understanding and allowed them to ask clarifying questions all the while generating additional conversation and new questions to be answered.  Some Google searches followed many of these discussions to provide even more answers. 
One thing to make note of regarding the Q&A - answers are included in the appendix.  Since we completed the book as a read aloud, they weren't necessary for us.  However, if you were considering this book as an independent study for an older child.  You could definitely utilize the provided answers in order to check for comprehension. 
Another feature I appreciated... the EXTENSIVE suggested resource list.  Pages of great selections I may otherwise never have known about.  We had a few books on our shelves that I was able to set aside.  Then, I grabbed a great Amazon deal on a video suggestion.  It's nice to have these lists handy when surfing the web!

I recommend you become familiar with YWAM Publishing and all they have to offer.  We've been nothing but impressed by their products.  Don't just take my word for it.  Be sure to click below to read the review of other homeschooling families. 


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