Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Getting Ready for Vacation Bible School

Vacation Bible School sounds like something that is ages away, but if you've ever been involved in planning and teaching, you know that right now is the time to be starting to think about those summer plans for the kids in your church.

I've been involved as a volunteer with VBS a few times over the past thirty-some years, and some of those experiences have been absolutely wonderful.  Some, not so much.  I think the best VBS programs are ones where the leaders have tried to balance a few things, like:
  • teaching the kids about Jesus
  • giving the kids a chance to interact and have fun
  • making it easy for the volunteers to participate
  • making parents feel that their kids are in a safe environment
  • making everyone involved feel welcomed and appreciated

Family Christian offered me the chance to get a look at the Maker Fun Factory VBS Ultimate Starter Kit from Group Publishing. 

I have participated in a few programs put out by Group Publishing, including a VBS program at my current church (Kingdom Rock).  One thing I really love about their resources is that it is clear that they have used the materials with real kids -- and real volunteers -- and that makes it so easy to focus on the other goals.  Like teaching the kids about Jesus.

In watching the training DVD, one thing that struck me was their commitment to keeping things REAL:
  • R - Relational - the kids learn by interacting with their small group, by building relationships.
  • E - Experiential - the kids learn by interacting, by experiencing the lesson.
  • A - Applicable - the lessons relate to them and their actual lives.
  • L - Learner-Based - the lessons are taught in multiple ways to reach all kinds of learners.
First, though, take a look at what you get in this starter kit!  (I hope to replace these photos with a video, but technology has been fighting me the past couple of days.)

The kit includes 4 DVDs and 2 CDs

There's a binder for the director, and guides for seven station leaders

And there is a whole lot of guides for the Preschool Program as well

Back to my list at the start of this post.  I have to tell you that the Maker Fun Factory VBS Ultimate Starter Kit makes it so easy to accomplish those goals.
  • Each day centers on a single main point, a point that is reinforced in every station.  They learn about God, about Jesus, and the main idea is consistent throughout all of various activities.
  • Interaction is built into the program at all of the stations.  The kids interact with their mixed-age group, their group leader, and the various station leaders.  
  • Prep work for the volunteers is minimal, with the absolutely fabulous guides that you can follow verbatim.  As a station leader, you know that the activities will take up the allotted time.  You aren't going to need to skip all the discussion at the end because the activity took so long, nor are you going to finish up and still have ten minutes to kill.  You know what the kids are doing in other stations, it is clear how your part fits in with everyone else.
  • With small groups of no more than five students (led by a teen or adult) and stations (led by an adult), parents know that their children are with at least two responsible someones at all points in the day.
  • Group Leaders are encouraged to be personal with each of their students, Station Leaders are encouraged to interact directly with the students who come through their stations. 

This isn't the only thing that Family Christian is doing to help with VBS.  They put on VBS Preview Events.  The first one was this past weekend, but there are two more happening this month and next.
  • Saturday, February 18, 2017 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Tuesday, March 14, 2017 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
You can register for those at Family Christian's registration page.  I recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this kit free from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, January 2, 2017

Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling

I am so excited to be participating in the Virtual Curriculum Fair, hosted by my friend Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds.  I'll be posting each Monday of January, I hope, about my homeschool and what we have planned for this semester.  This week, the 25 (or more!) participating bloggers are posting in the topic See How We Learn/Welcome to the Fair.

In coming weeks, we'll be looking at the following:
  • January 9 - Playing with Words: the Language Arts
  • January 16 - Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science
  • January 23 - Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science
  • January 30 - Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World
Don't those sound fun?

This week, kicking it off though, is about "how we get it done."  I have a thing or two to say about that.  Because it seems like more often than not, I don't get it done.

My homeschooled kids are in 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th grades, plus (for another few days) I have one home from college.  We've homeschooled from the beginning, and my approach has changed quite a lot from those early days.

Once upon a time, things were fairly scheduled.  We knew what we needed to do, and we did it.  I worked methodically through programs, finishing one up before starting something else.  We read aloud.  A lot.  And read aloud more.  A lot of that had to do with finances, really.  Library cards are the best homeschooling bargain out there.  With purchased curriculum, I did not have the funds to get something else if what I had wasn't working, so my only real option was to tweak it until it worked.

Once I started reviewing -- and we got some bills paid off -- there was more ability to be flexible and to drop the stuff that didn't work.  The other thing that happened at that time was that my oldest hit middle school.  Up until then, we had successfully stayed all together for all kinds of schoolwork.  That started to be a lot harder to do, though.

Fast forward to the last year or so.  I have older high school student(s), younger high school, middle school, elementary...  their needs are all over the place, and things just aren't as easy to coordinate anymore.

One thing I tend to do is to gear things to the oldest.  Last year, that meant that whatever courses Connor still needed to do, those were the ones we were doing.  We focused on getting his high school work done and filling in gaps on his transcript.  His high school brother came along for the ride, and got many of those things done for his high school credits as well.  Connor loved a printed book, so my tendency towards literature-based, leaning classical, semi-traditional worked for him.

Now it is is William's turn, and our school tends to focus on him a bit more.  He loves audio and video, and eats up history.  So our schooling is leaning in a completely different direction.  We utilize video-based courses, particularly our subscription to The Great Courses Plus, but also some other amazing resources. 

Thomas loves video too, but he's more interested in the technical side.  He's got his own YouTube channel, and is busy creating stop motion videos.  Currently, he's shooting footage of the moon landing, which I think is going to be pretty incredible.  He's also my artsy one,

Richard and Trina tend to do a lot of activity-based schooling, along with a bunch of online things.

All of that leaves ME feeling a bit scattered and like we're going along -- limping along -- in a million different directions.  It isn't what I envisioned sixteen years ago when I really started homeschooling.  
One thing I discovered, in pulling together a transcript for Connor, is that we do get more done than I think sometimes.  We may be running in a million directions, but our a little bit of this, a little bit of that approach has had some great results.


Go check out the other blogs!  I always find these posts to be inspiring and motivating!!  (note: all posts will be live by noon EST, Jan. 2nd)

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses

New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time

Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind

Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos

Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7

2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

If you have relevant posts, definitely feel free to link up!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Star Struck {a BookLook Blogger review}

One of my favorite (partial) verses from the Bible is "and the stars" from Genesis 1:16.  Day four of creation talks about the sun and the moon, which is a big deal.  But it is that last little bit, in the Debra paraphrase, where the writer throws in, "Oh, by the way, while he was at it, God made stars as well."

We've been outdoors at dusk/dark here a lot lately, and while we are working at various things, we have the opportunity to look up as the stars appear.  We live in a rural area, without much light pollution, so once it gets truly dark, we can see an amazing number of stars.

The stars are fascinating.  My eldest just did a presentation about stars for one of his college classes, and he has plans for us to be out doing some star gazing while he is home for Christmas.

Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of our Cosmos, by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey seemed like such a natural for our current fascination with the heavens.

From the publisher:
The heavens are beckoning us, telling us that this wonderful, mind-boggling cosmic display is indeed the work of the creator. And now, using rovers and satellites, we're venturing further out into the vastness of space than ever before.

In Star Struck, Christian astronomer David Bradstreet and writer Steve Rabey take readers on a guided tour of the biggest story ever, offering both intriguing science lessons and powerful spiritual insights:

As we discover more about cosmos, we understand more about the character of our Creator; The more we see the vastness and complexity of the universe, the more we experience awe, wonder, praise, gratitude and humility; Hundreds of Christian astronomers blaze the way into deep exploration of the universe today, discovering and proving God’s work in the heavens.

Combining a respect and admiration for mainstream astronomy with a zeal for uncovering new details about God’s celestial handiwork at its core, this book about stars, planets, asteroids, nebula, comets, dark matter, and the other fingerprints of God will tell you that all of the worlds around you are God’s and this world is his home for you.
This book is engaging, and some of the words from the publisher's description above really do ring true -- zeal, in particular.  I love reading about a subject from the perspective of someone who is so passionate about it, and David Bradstreet delivers there.

The book isn't about stars only, but about astronomy as a whole.  It is fascinating to read about all of this from a worldview that does include God as the Creator.  One thing I do want to point out, though, is that the millions of years timescale is used.  I don't have a problem with that, as I like to look at things from many different perspectives. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  He talks about all kinds of complicated astronomy facts and theories, but in a very accessible and easy-to-grasp manner.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We finally have eggs!

Ever since we first started looking at moving out where we had some wide open spaces, we have talked about things like getting chickens.  Our own eggs, where we know the animals are well-treated, and we know the eggs are healthier.  Sounded like a grand plan.

It only took us eighteen years to follow through, and we did get chickens last spring.

These two photos are from shortly after we finally got them moved into the chicken coop.  The coop certainly wasn't finished yet, by any stretch, but they needed to move in now.  And they got to watch the renovations occur around them.

That has to be fun, right?

Aren't they pretty?  I ought to go get a picture of them now.  There certainly is less grass in the chicken run these days (as in, NONE) as they certainly ate all of that up.

We worried a bit about the cats that adopted us, but both cat and chicken seem to hold their own against the other.

When we let the chickens roam the property, they always go check out the area where we feed the cats, and eat up whatever the silly kitties left behind.

We're not sure what we did wrong, but our hens were quite slow to start laying eggs.  I was starting to feel like a total homesteading failure.  Seriously, what kind of person can't even manage to get chickens to act like chickens?

Then the kids came in, excited as can be:

Seven eggs.  We suspect that we had missed looking at least one day, probably two, as we haven't had seven in a single day since that momentous event.

But we are starting to get 4-5 a day, pretty consistently.

It is fascinating to see the smaller eggs layed by the hens who are just getting started.  And to see the nice, big ones we are already getting from  the ones who got started first.  But one day was just wild.  I have a fairly "normal" egg, the eggs we usually see when a hen just gets started.  And the egg Trina found this week:

How cute is that little guy?

We have not cracked into it yet, but probably will do so today.

And we are loving this having fresh eggs thing.  It took us long enough, but it is still rewarding.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Radical Book for Kids {a Litfuse Blogger review}

We've been working our way through a new book, The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton.  I was a bit put off by the title ("radical" just doesn't make me think, "oh, sounds like a great theology and church history book, let's get that!")  I'm glad I read more and tried it out.

From the publisher:

A kid-sized explorer's guide to faith and life

The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer's guide to the Bible, church history, and life for boys and girls age 8 and up. Along with examining some of the most exciting realities in the universe, the handbook is vibrantly illustrated and chock-full of fun facts and ideas. Deep truths are communicated to elementary and middle-school aged kids while stimulating their curiosity and sense of adventure within a gospel-centered framework.

This power-packed book is "radical" in more ways than you might think! It is "radical" in the sense of the original meaning of the word, "going to the root or origin." The Radical Book for Kids will take children on a fascinating journey into the ancient roots of the Christian faith. But it's also "radical" in the more modern sense of being revolutionary. Kids read about men and women who learned to trust Jesus and stand for him---displaying radical faith---even when everything seemed against them.

But The Radical Book for Kids is also "radical"---meaning fun or cool---in the eyes of a child. Kids read about ancient weapons (and how to make one), learn about jewels, create pottery, discover ancient languages, use secret codes, locate stars, tell time using the sun, play a board game that's 3,000 years old---and more.

Check out the table of contents, skip around, or read straight through. However a child chooses to explore it, The Radical Book for Kids will open new vistas for their imagination and help to make straight paths for their feet.

Our thoughts:

We are really enjoying this book!  We sit down and go through one chapter in a sitting.  I have all my at-home kids involved.  Two (ages 10 and 12) are in the intended age range for the product, which is recommended for ages 8-14.  My 16- and 17-year-olds are sitting in on it too. 

The book covers a lot of different topics, most of which are familiar to us.  We've covered a lot of apologetics and the like over the years, though.  One thing we really love about this particular book, though, is that the information is presented in a way that makes sense for younger kids, and we are free to pull out some of our other resources to dig in a bit deeper.  The 67 chapters in this book give us a good outline to cover many important topics.

One topic coming up has to do with time in the Bible.  They talk about a couple of scripture references such as, "about the third hour" from Matthew 20:3, or "in the second watch" from Luke 12:38.  What do those actually mean?  I knew that the hours started counting at sunrise, so "about the third hour" would be about three hours after the sun came up.  But the details of all of that?  I certainly did not grasp that an hour did not necessarily mean 60 minutes in the same way our time does.  And I never quite grasped the whole "watch" thing.  Like -- did you know that the Jewish people divided the night hours into three watches, while the Romans had four?  So what time the second watch is would depend on whether it was a Jewish watch or a Roman one.

If you have not done much in terms of the roots of our faith, you really should look into this book.  And if these are topics you have covered, I think you'll still find information in here that is new.  Or you can use it like we are, as a roughly four month outline of study.  We're averaging four chapters a week, so that gives us about seventeen weeks of material.

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fallacy Detective

One of the things I think is absolutely critical in my homeschool is to teach my kids how to think. I want them to be able to take a look at all the “stuff” of life and actually be able to analyze what they are being told and decide if it makes any sense at all.

In a year like this, with a presidential election going on, there is a perfect opportunity to work with informal logic and specifically with logical fallacies. This is a great skill for wading through political rhetoric, but it is also important when listening to advertising, or when discussing theological issues.

I have two teens in high school, and they were not enthusiastic about studying fallacies.

When I told them I was reviewing The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn, they sighed and knew they were stuck.

The book consists of 36 chapters split into the following sections:

· The Inquiring Mind
· Avoiding the Question
· Making Assumptions
· Statistical Fallacies
· Propaganda

One way you could easily incorporate this into your schedule is to simply do a chapter a week for an entire year. Two chapters a week would take you a semester. We opted to try for four chapters a week, and finish it over the course of a couple of months.

The book is easy reading for a high school student, so you could easily hand this to your student and tell them to go for it. That isn’t the approach I’d recommend though.

I opted to read each (short) chapter out loud to my two teens, with lots of breaks to discuss the often silly examples. They’d take a look at the comic strips, which include all kinds of recognizable characters such as Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, and Peanuts.

And then we’d do the exercises together. And debate the answers. And argue back at the authors when we disagreed.

Those are the moments when I truly realize how much I love homeschooling my big guys.

We did not maintain our four chapter a week pace, but we are down to the final four chapters of the book. We seem to have a very hard time picking it up at this point, mostly because we don’t want this to end.

What has been truly exciting though is to be taking a look at all the people trying to sell us something and to have the words to explain what is wrong with their arguments. For example, one of the amendments on our local ballot earlier this month had to do with allowing the county government to sell internet services, or something like that.

We were reading some of the materials put out about why to vote for this measure, and one of the first reasons given was that many other counties do it, so we should too. Prior to Fallacy Detective, we would have laughed about whether or not you would jump off a cliff if your friends were doing it. So we recognized there was something wrong with the logic being used to convince us to vote yes.

After this book, though, we were discussing whether this is an appeal to the people or not. I grabbed Fallacy Detective, and we jumped ahead to the Bandwagon chapter in the Propaganda section. Basically, the idea in both is that we should do this because everyone else is doing it.

I highly, highly recommend this book. My middle school kids kept “happening” to be present when we were working in this book, and I definitely think this can work with middle or high school ages. I plan to go through it with the two younger ones in another year or so.

Trivium Pursuit has some other fantastic products you ought to check out as well.  Teaching the Trivium is one of my favorites.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from the publisher.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thanksgiving With the Pilgrims {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

One of the greatest aspects of being a part of the Homeschool Review Crew for awhile is that we have the opportunity to revisit some of our favorite vendors.  Homeschool Legacy is one of those companies.  We have reviewed some of their Once-a-Week Unit Studies in the past, which gave us a chance to work on Boy Scout and American Heritage Girls merit badges.

Over four years ago, we worked through We the People: Getting to Know Your Constitution.  That gave us a chance to work on the Citizenship in the Nation merit badges.  This time around, we decided to try one of their Once-a-Week Micro-Studies titles, Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

There are a few big differences between the Micro-Studies and the regular Unit Study products.  The biggest two, for me, is that the Micro-Studies do not explicitly fulfill merit badge requirements and there isn't an extensive book list included.

Most of the Micro-Studies are four weeks long (Thanksgiving is six weeks), and they include three 30-minute assignments per week.  These can be done once a week, as the title indicates, or spread out over the week.

Or (and this is what we did) you could make this a one-week study by doing a week's worth of work (about 90 minutes) a day.  In the case of the Thanksgiving study, the sixth week is actually about Christmas, so I think an ideal way to use this study would be to do the first five "weeks" of work in the week and a half leading up to Thanksgiving, and then spread week six out over the week after the holiday.

And then you could start the Once-a-Week Unit Study, Christmas Comes to America.  We did that one three years ago, and in re-reading my review, I am reminded that I wanted to do this again when Trina was an Explorer so she could earn her Music Appreciation badge at this level.

The Micro-Studies are intended for grades 1-8, but I did use it with all of my children (5th to 11th grades).  It has been awhile since we truly studied Thanksgiving as a whole, and there was new information for everyone.

One thing I loved about this study was that we spent a fair amount of time watching historical re-enactments online.  Almost as good as taking an actual field trip!

In addition to great videos and online activities, the study contains great information and gave us plenty to talk about.  Towards the end of the study, there are some cooking activities you can do (Indian Pudding, stringing cranberries, Wassail) but we opted not to do those.

My kids are pretty impressed with the studies as well, and are already in discussion about which we should do next.  One is all for pirates (Pirates or Privateers: You Decide), my Anglophile thinks that Victoria and Her World is the obvious choice, and learning that cherry pie was part of the lesson plans made Cooking up History with the Founding Presidents a top choice as well.  One thing I find really interesting is that most of the other studies have more hands-on activities, with timelines, maps, or doing things like labeling the parts of a ship. 

What I really love about these studies is that they do go into some depth without being overwhelming.  I'm not a big unit study fan, as they always seem to be too much work for not enough benefit.  These, however, are very open-and-go, and they don't suck up a lot of time.  We can take a one-week break from our regular history program and play a bit.

You can read what other Crew Members thought of their studies, as we had a total of six of them being reviewed!  Go.  Check it out!

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

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