Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Unauthorized {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Every so often, as part of the Homeschool Review Crew, we get the chance to review something that is such a huge hit in my house that we end up buying more.  Chara Games is one such vendor.  Last year, we reviewed Commissioned, and I had to go out and buy more copies for gifts.

This year, we've been playing Unauthorized, and you guessed it... I've already purchased another copy as a Christmas gift for my son.  I think that tells you what my bottom line is with this review.  The game is fabulous, and you should get a copy. The premise is that you are in an area with an underground church that the state is trying to stamp out.  Each game includes at least one pastor, at least one police officer, and at least four players who could be for the state or could be for the church... and their loyalties can change during the gameplay.

What a fantastic way to introduce the conflicts and tension of living out your faith in a place where Christianity can land you in jail, or lead to your execution.


Unauthorized is a game for 6-12 players.  The age on the box is 12+, but my 11-year-old was easily able to play.  Patrick (the guy behind this company) assured me that they are hearing about it working well with kids as young as 8.  I think with a bit of adaptation, that could be true.  I wouldn't want to do it with a big group of 8-year-olds, but a couple younger people in a group of mostly 12 and up -- that could absolutely work.

We pulled this out to play while college boy was home for a whole week.  That meant we had seven players for the first couple of games.  We also played it without Dad, with a total of six players.  And played it again.  And again.  And again.  And then we realized it was 2:30 in the morning and maybe we should get some sleep.

The next day, we played it a few times more.  And we tried playing two characters each, to get an idea of how it worked with 12 players.  That was fun too, but sometimes a bit hard to switch from one person to another.

I think you could say it was a hit here.

The basic game play:

Unauthorized is a card-based game, where you are dealt a character to play, some experience cards that influence your choices, and then in 30 minutes, you play out the scenario and either try to grow the church, or try to stamp it out, depending on what your cards tell you to do.

To start the game, you need to pull out the character cards, and grab the appropriate number of pastors (one for 6-9 players, two for 10-12 players) and police officers (one for 6-7 players, two for 8-12 players), and then shuffle the neutral role cards and pull out the appropriate number so there is one role card for each player.  All the unused role cards are returned to the box.  You shuffle the role cards, and deal one to each player.  A cool factor is that there are different photos on the role cards, usually a female on one side and a male on the other.  Each player can choose which side to have represent them.  We opted to let the police and pastor choose from either card, actually.

Each role -- teacher, musician, clerk, etc. -- has different abilities.  So right off the bat, you have some big variations in the game when playing with fewer than 12 people.  The combination of skills available in a game can change pretty dramatically.

Once everyone has a role, you deal experience cards.  The police officer is dealt seven cards that favor the state, the pastor is dealt seven cards that favor the church, and then you shuffle all the cards together so that all of the neutral players get a combination of different experiences.  (You add more cards to the deck if playing with 8-9 players, and even more cards if playing with 10-12 players.)

Your experience cards determine your loyalty.  If you have more state cards than church cards, you must play in a way that is loyal to the state.  If you have more church-friendly experiences than state-friendly ones, you must play in a way that is loyal to the church.  A tie goes to the state.  If you start out pretty even (3 of one, 4 of the other) you might find your loyalties switching back and forth throughout the game.  That doesn't even count the fact that there are wild cards, and with those YOU get to decide whether they are pro-church or pro-state.  

Once everyone is set up with their role and their experiences, the game actually starts.  You play four rounds, and in each of your turns, you have the opportunity to try to influence another player, learn about a player, or get out of jail.  Every other player may try to influence you or learn more about you.

One tricky part is you are never quite sure where anyone else stands -- except the pastor and the police officer.  You have some hints.  Each player has at least some of their experience laid out for everyone to see.  But if they have two state cards in front of them, do they have five church cards in their hand?  You don't know. 

The kids -- ages 11-20 -- and I loved this game.  The hardest part for us was playing someone who was really neutral -- 3 state cards, 3 church cards, and a wild card to start with (like the photo above), and then a lot of other players influencing us so on one turn you'd be pro-church and the next you'd be pro-state.  It was hard to actually act against the church when you could clearly see that you were likely to change back to being pro-church in the next round.

But that reflects reality, doesn't it?  When your experiences are pretty much all favoring one side or another, it is easier to act that way.  When you are waffling in the middle, neither hot nor cold, life isn't so easy to figure out and choices are harder.

Get the game.  It is inexpensive, pretty easy to learn, and every time you play is different.

Unauthorized {Chara Games Reviews}

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Random Stuff on a Friday

I have been severely neglecting my blog.  I know it.  I have all these ideas go through my head about things I could post about, but just don't find the time to put something together.

I remember I used to do a random stuff post.  And I know people who do some kind of random 5 weekly post.  I think I am going to try to do that whole random 5 thing every week, and we'll see if I can pull that off.

  1. Been busy trying to sort through a whole lot of stuff lately, and feeling a bit like Mrs. Incredible.  Why do we have so much junk?  Dale is taking some of the trashbags to work to put in the dumpster when they haven't filled it.  He left today with three bags and a box.  That feels good.
  2. Connor has been back to school for two weeks now.  I still need his schedule.  I'm not a helicopter mom / control freak, but I do like knowing what classes he is in.  I want to be able to look at the schedule and realize what class he is in, and pray for that teacher and pray for the kids, um, I mean adults, in class with him.  Maybe if I send him a link to this blog post, he'll get the hint and get me a copy of it.
  3. Watching the coverage of the hurricane has me thinking about how prepared I am -- or am not -- for the junk of life.  I definitely need to get some things together and organized again, so that I know if we get hit with blizzards this winter and can't get out, that we are good.  I also keep thinking I should blog about that.
  4. School with my at-home kids is interesting.  Two in high school, two in middle school.  It is weird thinking in terms of not having elementary kids anymore, though Trina (6th) can still be called an elementary student.  Being honest though, she really has turned into a middle schooler.
  5. A picture I found, while sorting junk (see #1) -- just because.

Now, let's see if I can do this again next week.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The 10 Minute Bible Journey {a New Leaf Press review}

For our brand-new school year, we have begun something new.  We are working through The 10 Minute Bible Journey from New Leaf Press.

Once upon a time, we were pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a group for school.  We would pick a plan and go through the Bible in a year.  We started with some pretty basic story Bibles, moved into some in fairly easy language, went through a chronological Bible, used a podcast version, and more.

But everyone started going off in different directions and it was hard to get everyone together for long.  Group Bible reading fell to the wayside.

When I had a chance to check out this book, I thought it looked interesting.  I had no idea that it could lead into rekindling that particular habit.

The book includes 52 fairly short readings that start "In the beginning..." and end in Revelation.  They aren't straight Bible stories, but they weave apologetics in alongside the words from the Bible.  And they really do take only about ten minutes. 

The back of the book has a Bible Reading Plan that we are now officially following.  They call it a "Summary First" method, where you start by reading through this book, to get a summary view of the entire Bible before you dive in to all of the details of the Bible itself.  Once you start working through the Bible, they have you going in a more-or-less chronological way.

I love that.

I also love that all of my kids are getting something out of this book.  They range from 11 to 18, and this bite-sized chunk thing is great for them all.  We are making a lot of use of the footnotes, which are extensive, and we find ourselves going and looking up the Hebrew with some electronic resources (we're still in the Old Testament).

The best thing for me is that we started this on some random date in August.  I can bookmark it, and on days we are home, we read the next one.  On days where everyone is off in different directions, we don't necessarily get to it.  Since there are no dates or week designations at all, we don't have to feel guilty that we aren't keeping up.

I certainly recommend this book, and highly recommend using it as a family. 

Disclaimer:   I received this ebook for free from Master Books.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Patterns of Evidence: review and giveaway

I first saw Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus a couple of years ago, when I reviewed it.  I gave that copy away to a youth leader, and bought myself a new copy.  I proceeded to give that copy away, planning to purchase yet another copy.

Then I was offered the chance to do a review and giveaway of the Director's Choice Edition.  I thought it would be really interesting to review it again from a different point in life, so I quickly said yes.

This time through, I was watching with two adult children, one of whom is in school training to be a pastor.  I hoped that his perspective now would be valuable.  It was really fascinating to watch this with him, but I'm not sure that it really did end up giving me more insights that help to write the review.

What this movie does is to take a look at the basic pattern in the Bible story of the Exodus -- beginning at the end of Genesis with Joseph's rise to power in Egypt, and ending in Canaan with the Israelites conquering those first cities -- and try to match that up with the archaeological evidence.

The whole thing is fascinating.

What I most appreciate about this long film (two hours) is that Tim Mahoney is allowing all kinds of opinions to be put forth.  You feel confident that you know what he believes, but he has all kinds of experts who certainly disagree, but who truly get a chance to make their points and present their case.

I find that refreshing.  You are invited to hear all sorts of evidence for and against the Bible as myth... and you are invited to evaluate that evidence and decide for yourself.

There is so much information packed into this DVD that I am certain I could watch this every day for a month and still pick up new insights.

I know I just said this about a book I reviewed yesterday, but I really do think everyone should see this, and every Christian parent should watch this with their teens and young adults.  My teens were glued to the screen, and this resulted in fairly extensive conversations in our household.

Check the trailer:

Now that I've written all of that, I went back to find my previous review and hoped that I was saying something a bit different.  My bottom line then was:

If you trust me at all, you just need to go out and GET this DVD. We loved it. The end.

I can't argue with me.

If you go purchase this at their store, use the code MK1 to get $3 off the price of the DVD.

There are some amazing resources to go along with this.  I'm really interested in the Young Explorers set.  Maybe that is something I need for Christmas.  Hmmm.

To win a copy, you must be in the continental US.  Thanks!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

God's Crime Scene for Kids {a Litfuse Blog Tour review}

Earlier this summer, I finished God's Crime Scene, by J. Warner Wallace.  It was a simply fabulous book, and my first thought was, "I wonder how long until the 'for Kids' version is available."

A couple of days later, I got an email about a blog tour for God's Crime Scene for Kids.  Obviously, I signed up for that quickly.

The tough part of writing this review is that most of what I want to say, I already said in my review of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.  This book follows the same format, is just as well-written, and is also a book that I think every parent ought to work through with their kids in the age range of 8-14 or so. 

The subject matter is different though.

God's Crime Scene is focused on whether or not there is enough evidence to "convict" God of the crime of creating the universe.

But let's read what the publisher said about it:
Hone your reasoning skills as you investigate evidence in the universe to determine the most reasonable cause for everything we see in creation.

In this companion to Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, Jason uncovers a mystery in his grandmother’s attic. He and his friends, Hannah, Daniel and Jasmine, enlist the help of Detective Jeffries at the Jr. Detective’s Academy. Along the way, they develop the skills needed to investigate the mystery and the evidence of God’s existence. The cadets learn logical-thinking skills as they examine the contents of a mysterious box and the vast universe.

In God’s Crime Scene for Kids, real-life detective J. Warner Wallace shows kids ages 8 to 12 what skills are needed to solve Jason’s mystery, and at the same time looks at evidence in the universe that demonstrates God is the creator. Ultimately, kids will learn how to make their own case for God’s existence.
What I love about working through this with my 11- and 13-year-olds is that even though my kids have been through a lot of materials about "In the beginning..." and they end up getting a bit of the eye roll going when we come across the topic, this book presents the information in a way that is fun and engaging.

We've been reading a chapter, while they fill in the answers on the pdf notes page.  Then we watch the video on their website.  The kids follow up by looking into some of the extra sidebar things in the book, and doing the game-type of pdf file as well. 

I'd love to be working with my older teens on God's Crime Scene, as it is incredibly easy to coordinate the two books.  But it's been an insanely crazy month, and that just was not going to happen.

I really do mean it when I say that I think every Christian parent of a 8-14ish year old should work through both of these books.  And if you have teens, you should be getting a set of all three of the adult books for them (Forensic Faith for Kids is coming soon!).

And you should have a set of your own too.

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Doctor Aviation {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Doctor Aviation
I had no idea how much we needed this course.  It never occurred to me to go searching for an aviation homeschool program at all.  Now that we've been using it, though, it has been fantastic for everyone.

Doctor Aviation to the rescue, when I didn't even know I needed rescuing.  We've been using our subscription with the entire family, and it has been great on multiple levels.
  • William (senior) and Thomas (sophomore) both need more science on their transcript. 
  • Richard (8th grade) loves all things aviation.
  • Trina is using this course in earning her Aviation Badge from American Heritage Girls.
I'll talk about all three a bit more below.  But first, what is Doctor Aviation?

A clip from Lesson 5
When you subscribe to Doctor Aviation, the meat of the program is fifteen video lessons.  Each lesson also includes guided notes, and a pdf of suggestions to learn more.  You can get tests as well, which are great if you are using this for high school.  I chose to do my own testing.

Each lesson consists of three sections.  The first is the most science-y portion, as you learn about the physics behind flight and other technical aspects.  The second section is a biography of someone important in the aviation world.  The third section is either about an aviation event or it is about a specific aircraft.

The videos are roughly an hour in total, with clear breaks between the three sections.  That brings me to my one and only complaint about this program -- I wish the weekly sessions were actually split into three separate chapters (with chapter markers) or even separate videos, so that you could easily watch one part at a time.  We lived with it, but that would make a big difference in ease of use.

High School

For high school, a 1/2 credit course is often defined as requiring 60+ hours of work.  To get there, we needed to do around four hours of work per lesson.  The video was one of those hours, and discussion usually added at least another half hour.  Each of the pdf files easily provides multiple ways to get another couple of hours of work in.

We found the audiobook through the library
Depending on which options you choose, you could easily use this course in multiple subjects.  We chose science, so we tended to do things like read the scientist biographies, watch the science of flight youtube videos, and do some of the hands-on science activities.  We have been doing each lesson over two weeks, but to get through in six months, we'll have to do a few over one week.

You could very easily make this aviation history, by focusing more on all of the biographies and doing more with the events.  William would have preferred that, but he has plenty of history credits. 

You could make this a general elective too, of course.

American Heritage Girls

Trina is working on her Aviation Badge at the Explorer Level (4th-6th grade), and this course is fantastic for really doing that.  This course directly covers a lot of the badge requirements, and most of the remaining ones are easy to add in.

Assuming she hadn't earned this badge before, she would have to (these requirements are simplified for this blog post, there is more detail in the actual badge book):
  • Learn about the four forces of flight (directly covered).
  • Learn about different uses of airplanes (covered) and Mission Aviation Fellowship (the course covers Nate Saint directly, and it would be very easy to add a bit on MAF at this point)
  • Identify parts of an aircraft, control surfaces, etc.  (covered)
  • Identify flight instruments in a cockpit (covered)
  • Make and fly some paper airplanes (easy to add)
She also has to do two additional things, among the choices are:
  • Read about the Wright brothers and their experiments (a couple biographies are recommended).
  • List some things a helicopter can do which a conventional aircraft cannot (covered).
  • Demonstrate the Bernoulli principle (the principle is covered).
  • Explain what an airplane does in yawl and pitch (covered).
  • and a few other options that could be added in like a visit to an airport or aviation museum. Or the Air Force Academy.

Basically, in order for her to earn this badge, we need to be intentional about doing things as we hit them in the course, and we need to spend some time making paper airplanes.

My Aviation Nut

I saved the best for last.

Richard has always been fascinated by helicopters.  A couple years ago, when he had to do an assignment for AWANA about why he would be a good missionary, he chose to write about why he would be great as a missionary pilot.  He wasn't really all that serious about it, but I think it did get some wheels turning.

Starting this course, though, has really made him think.  He is recognizing that he could actually fly.  And that he could start doing that soon.  We are only 1/3 of the way through the course, and he has started investigating Civil Air Patrol.  He checked out every single book the library had on making paper airplanes (so I put him in charge of Trina's paper airplane badge requirement above!)

This course is making him think about what he can do with the rest of his life.

Will he be a pilot?  I have no idea.  He's still only 13, so he has lots of time to change his mind.  But right now, it is giving him a direction, and it is spurring him on to understand why he might actually need to learn science and math.

I call that a win.

Go and see what other members of the Crew had to say about this fantastic program.  I think it is wonderful, and am grateful for the opportunity to use it.

Aviation Course {Doctor Aviation Reviews}

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Secrets {a Litfuse Blog Tour review}

Last month, I attended the homeschool conference in Denver, Colorado.  It was a fantastic experience and I had the chance to interact with a lot of really great people.  One of those amazing people was Melanie Young, of Raising Real Men.

We had a number of really fascinating conversations, but one of them really stands out.

Melanie and I were talking about porn.  In the middle of the vendor hall at the convention.  For a half hour or more.  We're part of a group of homeschool moms, busily planning the best math program, or the right history sequence.  Meanwhile, there is an epidemic out there impacting men, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that Christians are exempt.  We are fooling ourselves if we think homeschoolers are exempt.  We are fooling ourselves if we think that it couldn't happen to our boys.

I was left with the conviction that as part of the "older women" in homeschooling circles, I can't stay silent about the issue, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

So, when Litfuse was looking for folks to review Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances by Jonathan Daugherty, I knew I needed to go for it.

I'm glad I did.

Secrets starts off a lot of years ago, when Daugherty first encountered porn in a magazine as a 12-year-old.

Let me tell you what the publisher had to say:
Everyone has a secret or two, a part of their life they would rather not share with the rest of the world.

But for Jonathan Daugherty, his secret was so life-altering and relationship-ending that he fought to keep it hidden at all costs. And it did cost him. His secret kept him from contentment, peace, and the possibility of being known and loved for who he truly is. That's what any secret addiction can do-but in particular a sex addiction.

After his wife finally discovered his secret, their marriage appeared to be over. In Secrets, Jonathan honestly and courageously shares his story of addiction to pornography and how he lost everything to it.

But that's not how the story ends. While Jonathan struggled, someone else was at work-his heavenly Father. At the lowest possible moment of his life, God stepped in and brought him hope and healing. This is a story of both loss and redemption that gives hope to anyone who has ever experienced the power and struggle of addiction and its life-destroying effects.

Addiction doesn't have the final say over Jonathan's life or in his marriage. The God who finds the lost, heals the sick, and brings life from death has the last, victorious word.
  • A courageous, honest and open account of life as a sex addict and how sex addiction destroys marriages.
  • A life-affirming and personal story of recovery and redemption that will inspire readers.
  • Offers hope to all who struggle with pornography and sex addiction.
  • Each chapter includes a "Living in the Light" section designed to equip and help readers find freedom from addiction.
  • Suitable as a study for support groups of addicts and those who care about them.
I expected to struggle through this book.  Instead I was surprised to find this a relatively easy book to read, and I was pulling for Jonathan.  And for his wife.  There is no doubt that he has an addiction and that he makes a lot of mistakes, but the descriptions are not graphic.  Of course, it helped a lot that the description of the book told me this was a story of recovery and redemption.  I'm not sure I would have been able to get through it if I didn't know this book offers hope -- and not just to those who struggle, but to those who know people who struggle.

Daugherty pin3
There are lots of people out there struggling.  And porn addiction does ruin lives.  It breaks up marriages, ruins relationships with friends and family, and absolutely kills trust.  But God.

God is bigger than all of that, and God uses broken people all the time.

All the time.

This book reminded me of that, and Jonathan Daugherty is doing fantastic things by putting this book out there.

This is a book I'd love to get into the hands of lots of people.  Because porn is easier than ever to find, and the statistics show that kids -- male and female -- are finding it at younger and younger ages.

We need to not bury our heads in the sand.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I could not begin to tell you just how many times I have watched Mary Poppins.  It's definitely in the hundreds.  Probably pretty high in the hundreds.

After our money field trip yesterday, we sat down to watch Mary Poppins yet again, specifically to see the scene in the bank where the directors sing Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.  You know the song...

If you invest your tuppence
Wisely in the bank
Safe and sound
Soon that tuppence,
Safely invested in the bank,
Will compound

And you'll achieve that sense of conquest
As your affluence expands
In the hands of the directors
Who invest as propriety demands

So we're going along, watching the movie, and Mary Poppins has Jane and Michael heading out to run some errands.  Mary Poppins tells Michael to hurry it up.

I've seen this scene hundreds of times.  For some reason, though, as she told Michael to stop stravaging, it hit me that I had never heard that word before.  I clearly knew what it meant.  But I had never actually heard it.

So I looked it up.  Stravage.  Or stravaig.  It's Scottish.  And it means what I had always "heard" in my head.  Michael is roaming, dilly-dallying, wandering.  

What a cool word!

Of course, apparently, Ms. Poppins mispronounced it.  She says something like "straw vej ing," but according to Merriam Webster, the root word is "straw vague."  (To use something resembling real words here.)

I just found it interesting that I never heard the word before.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Learning about Money

Had a great day with my younger two today. Among other things, we were working on a couple of AHG badges. No, Richard has not joined American Heritage Girls. But the Money Management badge is GOOD stuff, and I told him he had to work on it too.

We started the day over at Farmer's State Bank in Ellicott.  Trina talked to a couple of the tellers, as there was nobody else in there when we arrived.  Jessi mostly.

Jessi told Trina about some of the things she does as a bank teller.  She has to know which type of form people need to use for all kinds of different transactions, so she showed the kids deposit slips, counter checks, withdrawal slips, etc.  She talked about the difference between savings and checking accounts, and showed her where the safety deposit boxes are.  She explained the education needed to be a bank teller.  She also told her that the really important thing she had to do as a bank teller was NOT to tell anyone about anything they weren't authorized to know.  So if Trina went in and asked what the balance is in Richard's account, Jessi can't tell her.  But Jessi can tell Mom, since I am on his account.  

There were a lot of people in setting up bank accounts, so we headed to town to do some grocery shopping, with the plan to come back.

At the store, we did some comparison shopping, looking at name brand vs. store brand for a bunch of things.  The store brand was always less expensive.  We compared chicken nuggets, peanut butter, parmesan cheese, ketchup, string cheese, and lasagna noodles.  We talked about my basic strategy with store brands, which is to try them first.  There are a couple of items where I don't like the store brand, and I am willing to pay more for the name brand.  We discussed the fact that Grandma would pay the extra money to get Skippy Crunchy peanut butter.  She just liked Skippy.

We also compared different size packages to see the price difference per ounce.  There we looked at chicken thighs, ketchup, peanut butter, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.  The 32 oz store brand ketchup cost more per ounce than the 22 oz store brand did.  Otherwise, bigger containers did cost less per ounce.  We had a great conversation about when it is a good idea to buy the biggest containers, and when it makes more sense to purchase a smaller size even though it costs more per ounce.  

Of course, the idea of not being able to go through a bigger container is foreign to kids who have grown up with three big brothers.  

We also needed to replace a cheap pair of headphones, so while we were at it, we did price comparisons there too, and discussed why we were choosing the $13 headphones instead of the $5 ones.  "You get what you pay for," was mentioned in the AHG book, so we talked about it there.

Back at the bank, we talked to Josh's dad (aka Mr. Yoder) about why it is a good idea to use a bank to save up money, what the bank does with the money, and he talked a whole lot about compound interest.  Good stuff, all of that, though I think Trina's eyes glossed over at some point in there.  Mostly, she tracked with him.  

Then we went to see Cheryl and both of them opened up savings accounts.  Cheryl gave them passbooks with deposit and withdrawal slips, and gave them each a pen.

It was a productive day, but we still have more to do to earn the Money Management badge.  Mostly, that is going to involve some Bible reading to see what God has to say about money

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lightning Literature Grade 7 {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

A few years ago, I tried using Hewitt Homeschooling with my big boys.  For various reasons the Gr 7 Lightning Lit Set was not a good fit for them, but I really loved the program.  Now that my youngest children are in 6th (Trina) and 8th (Richard) grades, I decided to try with them.

That was a good decision.

 Lightning Literature and Composition Pack
Grade 7

For purposes of this review, I received the Teacher's Guide, Student's Guide, and Workbook.  The only consumable portion of this program is the workbook, so I obtained a second copy of that.  The above photo shows all of the materials you need to complete the year.  We own Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages, and we either own the remaining books, or we can borrow them from the library.

I love the layout of the program.  The students are reading full books:  two fictional novels (Tom Sawyer and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), and two non-fiction titles (Helen Keller and All Creatures Great and Small).  In between those books, you are reading short stories or poems out of the Stories and Poems book.  That means that you are alternating between short readings and long ones.

I love that.

The basic schedule for the first semester looks something like this:
  • Weeks 1-3: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, reading, lessons, worksheets, and a writing assignment.
  • Weeks 3-9: Tom Sawyer reading and comprehension questions.
  • Weeks 10-12: Tom Sawyer lessons, worksheets, and writing assignment.
  • Weeks 12-14: Poetry, reading, lessons, worksheets, and a writing assignment.
  • Weeks 14-16: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reading and comprehension questions.
  • Weeks 16-28: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland lessons and writing assignment.
The second semester is similar, alternating from short story to book to poetry to book.  The overlap is when you are revising a paper from the previous work and starting to read the next work, or finishing the reading and starting to do the lessons.

Another aspect I really love is that for each section, you have a choice of three or four writing assignments.  The Teacher's Guide makes suggestions as to the difficulty of the various options.  Since Trina is young for this program (if they had the 6th grade program out, or even the 5th grade one, I would use that instead!) I am generally encouraging her to do the easier writing lessons.  Richard can use a bit more of a challenge.

I am also adapting some of the worksheet activities for Trina, letting her discuss the concepts with me sometimes instead of doing all the writing.

Each chapter of the program represents one work, or a group of poems.  The basic outline of each chapter is to learn a bit about the work, with a suggestion of something to be watching for as you read.  Then you read the work and answer some comprehension questions.  It is suggested that the questions be covered on Friday for all the reading from that week. Vocabulary words are provided as well.  Each chapter has a literary lesson and a mini-lesson.  There are a series of worksheets. Finally, there is a writing assignment.

The worksheets are coded so you know what they cover.
  • L is for worksheets covering the literary lesson.
  • M is for worksheets covering the mini-lesson, which often have to do with other composition skills.
  • C gives students a chance to practice composition skills.
  • T is for thinking skills.
  • G is for grammar.  I love the grammar pages.
  • P is for puzzle pages, one crossword and one word search.  These are optional.  Trina loves them.  Richard, well, not so much.
  • E is for Extra-Challenge.  These pages are also optional.  I am not having Trina do these, and I am picking and choosing for Richard.
This program works well for my kids.  The workload is reasonable -- and adjustable.  In many of the weeks, the student is only reading and doing comprehension questions.  Over the course of the year, the student completes eight writing assignments, and there is plenty of time available to do those.

One thing I had seriously questioned about Lightning Literature before I used it was just how much time is spent "only" reading.  I saw that as a negative, as I truly believe my kids need to be getting into far more literature than "only" four books in a year.  My opinions on that have changed a lot.  And they haven't changed at all.  Let me explain.

I think it is critically important for children to be exposed to a wide variety of literature.  Novels and biographies, like the selections here.  But far more of them.  That does not mean, however, that they need to be "doing" literature studies on everything they read.  With that in mind, studying four books (plus two short stories plus two groups of poems) is far more reasonable.  

We can change up the pace too.  The kids are busy this summer, but based on how things have gone so far, we'll get through Tom Sawyer in far less than seven weeks.  I have them work on the set of chapters for a week, and when they finish that set, we do the comprehension questions.  Then they move on to the next chapter grouping.

When we get to the worksheets, however, instead of doing the Literary Lesson, Mini-Lesson, and all of the worksheet pages in a single week, we'll be doing a single worksheet per day.  So, assuming we actually start on a Monday, we'll follow a schedule like this:
  • Monday - read the Literary Lesson about the Plot Line, and do the worksheet about definitions
  • Tuesday - read the Mini-Lesson on Outlines, and do the Outline worksheet
  • Wednesday - do the worksheet on writing from note cards, writing a paragraph about the Mississippi River using the provided facts
  • Thursday - do the composition worksheet on actually writing note cards
  • Friday - do the thinking skills worksheet on Fact and Opinion.  I'll suggest that they do the puzzles as well.
  • Monday - do the grammar worksheet on pronouns and antecedents
  • Tuesday - the extra assignment relates to knowing your audience.  Trina may listen in, but I will talk through this assignment with Richard.  We will brainstorm ideas for the three different letters, and I will have him actually write one of his choice.
Then we'll start Week 11, and work on the writing assignment.  That may very well carry into the next week. In other words, we'll do the reading in three to four weeks instead of seven, but then we'll spread the worksheets and writing out over three full weeks instead of two plus a bit.

I love that I can have them learning about literature and writing about literature, but I also have time in their schedule for them to be writing about other things. And the Teacher's Guide mentions that this course is touching on a concept now, but they will cover it more fully in 8th grade.  That helps me to leave things be and not hyper-explain concepts.  They are getting enough now.  They'll get more later.

The Crew reviewed all levels of Lightning Literature - Elementary, Jr. High and High School, and also the My First Reports.  Go read their reviews too!

Hewitt Homeschooling {Reviews}

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Earth Science: God's World, Our Home {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

I have been looking forward to using Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home  ever since I found out that Novare Science & Math was going to be doing reviews with the Homeschool Review Crew this year.

When I was sent over to their website, I replied that I had never heard of Novare Science before but that I was incredibly impressed with what I was seeing there.  I particularly loved reading their Textbook Philosophy, and found myself agreeing with most of what they had to say.  The bit about Integration -- particularly the integration of history and philosophy -- is something that I knew would appeal to my then high school junior.  He struggles with science, and I was wishing I had seen these products earlier.

I've been working with Jeffrey Mays to pull together this review, and in one of our phone conversations he mentioned how they are getting into the homeschool market because of companies like Potter's School and Memoria Press.  When he mentioned Memoria Press, I exclaimed, "THAT is where I've seen you before!"

That was a bit awkward, as I had just told him I had never seen his products.

I hadn't seen the website, nor seen their philosophy and all.  But I had read about Physical Science, Earth Science, and General Chemistry in The Classical Teacher from Memoria Press.  I wanted to try them all out.

The Crew had the opportunity to review either Earth Science, Introductory Physics, General Chemistry, or Science for Every Teacher.  I started using Earth Science with my 5th and 7th graders, and plan to use Introductory Physics with my 10th and 12th graders in the fall.  Most of these books are written by John Mays, but Kevin Nelstead is the author of Earth Science.

Let's talk a bit about their suggested science sequence.  In general, they recommend:
  • 6th: something for Life Science
  • 7th: Physical Science
  • 8th: Earth Science
  • 9th: Introductory Physics
  • 10th: something for General Biology (they are working on a textbook for this)
  • 11th: General Chemistry
  • 12th: something for Anatomy and Physiology
I love this.

Of course, my kids are all going to be working out of this order, but I still love it.  Trina and Richard are using Earth Science now, and they have had some Life Science work.  I plan for Richard to start the high school sequence as a ninth grader, without doing Physical Science.  Trina will go on to do Physical Science, then Life Science, and then do the high school sequence.

So after all that, maybe I ought to actually talk about the course itself.

Novare Earth Science: God’s World Our Home
It is hard to tell by looking at the picture of the cover, but this is a fairly compact book.  Not intimidating at all.  The book includes 15 chapters of about 25 pages each.  These chapters cover astronomy, geology, oceanography, meteorology, and more.  They teach from a mastery approach, so the material you cover is reviewed throughout the year.

The Resource CD includes a lot of helps for teaching this in the home or classroom. The best part is a schedule.  I love having a schedule.  It schedules out 4 or 5 day weeks, for a total of 33 weeks.  There are a total of 153 days of lessons.

Another piece I love is a pdf of sample answers.  Even when I am working on the materials with my kids, sometimes it is really nice to have a nicely formatted answer to the discussion questions.

The CD also includes quizzes, exams, images, weekly review guides, and resources for the experiments.

The Resource CD is indispensable.

How we are using this:

Essentially, we are following the schedule, but we are not accomplishing a week's worth of work each week.  There are too many other things going on in the summer, so when I can work on it, we just do the next day of work.  Because of the integration of subjects like philosophy, I really do want to do this course with my kids, so I am reading the text aloud.  I get my computer hooked up to the TV, and I am able to put the images up on the big screen as we go along.

We started by discussing the objectives and vocabulary at the start of the chapter, but I have to confess that my kids tend to find that overwhelming.  So now I am looking ahead at the reading for the day and starting each reading day by covering the objectives for that day.  After the reading, I go back over the vocabulary terms that we covered.

This works a lot better.

At the end of the chapter, I go back and read all of the objectives.

As we cover vocabulary, the kids are responsible for creating vocabulary cards.  Some chapters have a lot of vocabulary.  This is not their favorite part of the program.

Each chapter contains great illustrations and photos.  The text is pretty easy to read, and has not been over their heads yet.

This is a good place to mention that Novare comes from a distinctly Christian point of view, but they do not support the idea of a young earth.  As I think it is hugely important for my kids to encounter multiple points of view, I think this is a huge benefit of this program.  There are so many young-earth resources available out on the Christian Homeschooling market, and with only 153 days of lessons (and some short days as well) it is easy to supplement if I decide to bring some young-earth alternatives into the teaching.

They do not get into evolution at all, which I appreciate.

At the end of the chapter, there are exercises to perform.  These are scheduled into the class time, not as homework.

There are also eight experiments, which is roughly one for every two chapters.  It doesn't work that way, exactly, but the hands-on aspect is really great.  Some of these experiments require rock samples, which can get expensive, but many are using topographical maps (provided).  A couple use supplies that are fairly easy to obtain.

My bottom line is that I really love this book.  They present scientific information in a systematic way that doesn't intimidate me and doesn't bore my children.  This course is thorough, without going into excessive detail that really is unnecessary. 

My kids like that the lessons are fairly short and that they bring in interesting aspects of other subjects that make it more interesting.  My son loves the lack of worksheets.  He also really wants to get to the meteorology portions of the book, as he thinks that studying weather is a good idea for when he becomes a pilot.

We are going to continue to use materials from Novare Science & Math.

Biblical Based Science {Novare Science & Math Reviews}

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

UnLock Pre-Algebra {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

UnLock Math pre-algebra
A couple of months ago, I sat all of my kids down and had a serious discussion about math.  Clearly, something had to change.  Math has been a struggle here, and at least part of that is the consistency.

So when UnLock Math came along, I jumped at the chance to have Thomas work through UnLock Pre-Algebra.  Basically, I need to know that he is fully prepared for Algebra 1, so I told him he needed to complete this program this summer.

This program is perfect for him.  Perfect.  He told me that one of the best things is that he always knows exactly what to do.  He knows that a "day" of work involves doing the next lesson, all the way through.  Every time, he goes through the same steps, with a couple of variations that are obvious.

When he goes to type in an answer, it almost always tells him things like what to type to represent multiplication.  He rarely has to wonder how to format an answer.

So let's walk through this.  When you get in to the course page, you see a list that looks like this.  The units are listed (there are 16 of them) and the blue lock shows the ones that are complete (units 1, 2 and 3).

The purple closed locks (units 5 and 6) are units he hasn't started working yet.

The light purple open lock (unit 4) is in progress.  When you click on the rocket to launch that unit, you get to another menu screen.

On this page, the locks again show you where you are.  Thomas has finished lesson 4.5, 4.6, and the 4.5-4.6 quiz.

He has not yet started the next ones.  The next step is for him to open up lesson 4.7 and complete it.

The next day's assignment would be lesson 4.8 and the 4.7-4.8 quiz.  The following day's assignment would be the unit review, and the day after that he would do the unit test.

Straightforward and easy.  And the locks keep changing color, so he can clearly see his progress.

Once he gets into a lesson, he is presented with a screen with a fun little arrow path that tells him where to start and how to progress through the lesson.  When he does the work on MY computer (a Mac), that "path" is not there.  The steps are the same each time.  There is probably a better description of what the segments are and why, but I'm mostly using his words here.

Warm Up - 5 problems that review previous concepts, usually from the last few lessons, tends to be stuff that is gearing you up for the topic today. You can repeat the Warm Up as many times as you wish.

Video - this is the primary teaching part of the lesson.  Alesia does the teaching in the videos, with text appearing next to her.  She takes just one bite-sized chunk at a time, and the lessons lead naturally from one to the next.

There aren't a lot of fancy effects, there are some attempts at humor, and sometimes those attempts succeed.  Thomas doesn't want to be entertained, though, he wants to get math done.  Alesia is mostly to-the-point, and he doesn't have to sit through a lot of extra fluff. 

Practice Problems - This section has around 10 problems going over what you just learned in the video.  Again, you can repeat this section as many times as you would like, and the questions do change.  Thomas told me that if you are striving for perfection and you do the same section a lot of times, you will see problems repeat.  So it isn't an endless supply of possible questions, but you aren't going to be able to do the problems, note the answers, and then just do it again to get 100.

As you can see, the answer field here prompts him for how the answer should look.  It tells him to enter a number. 

Stay Sharp - This section includes about 10 problems that are reviewing stuff that you've done before, not just recent material.  Again, you can repeat this section if you don't like your score.

Challenge Yourself -  The final section includes one problem that relates to the lesson that is much more challenging.  You are only allowed to submit this once.  This is for extra credit, and missing this problem doesn't bring down the student's grade.

After every couple of lessons, there is a quiz.  This looks very much like the other problems sections, except that it doesn't tell you anything about how you are doing as you go.

There are also reviews and tests at the end of each unit.  With the review, you can see how you are doing as you go, but not with the test.

Once you finish the quiz, you can get to a report that tells you how you did and also shows the solution.  

This is really helpful when you are not getting a concept!

The program also has some fantastic tracking features.  Thomas loves that he can see progress happening.
This one shows his progress in this unit.  The dark colors are the part he's completed.  The light colors are what is left.  This shows visible progress for each lesson he completes -- the pie is obviously darker each time.

This one shows how he is doing in the course (the speedometer looking part), and it also shows how much of the course he has completed.  That blue line moves a bit as he completes lessons, but it isn't as dramatic as the pie chart above.  Still, over the course of a week, you can definitely see more color.

In addition to all of the above, there are other pieces that I can use.  The course includes a pacing guide that helped me to figure out just what he was going to need to accomplish weekly in order to finish up this summer. 

There is a a progress report that gives me some additional information about how he is doing on each type of assignment.  I can look at that for the course as a whole, or I can look at it for individual units.

There is a gradebook that gives me a lot of detail about when he did the assignments, how long they took, how he did on them -- and it shows me how many times he repeated an assignment.  Or, after a day poking around to write a review, it shows a whole lot of incomplete assignments that "he" spent 0-1 minutes on. 

Our bottom line?

We love this program.  It is perfect for him as he knows just what to do, and what it takes to finish.  I love that it automatically grades him and I don't have to do anything with that.  Plus he is clearly grasping the material.  He absolutely will be moving on to Algebra 1, and he hopes to work with their brand-new Geometry program after that.

Go see what others on the Crew had to say about these math programs!

Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Book of Trees - a review of Memoria Press Science

One of my favorite homeschool companies over the past dozen years has been Memoria Press.  I am always excited when we have the chance to review some of their materials.  This time, the Crew had the opportunity to work with any of their Latin programs, or two different science programs.

Nature's Beautiful Order is a wonderful set, geared to students in 6th-8th grade, and they also recommend it as a supplement for high school.  I think that is how I'd like to use that program, alongside a high school biology course.  We chose to work with The Book of Trees now though, another program intended for grades 6-8.

The Book of Trees Set

Memoria Press sent the primary components of this program for review - the Reader, the Student Book, and the Teacher Guide.  I picked up one of the recommended resources, The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups, but so far we haven't used that at all.

Flipping ahead, these guides are suggested for reference when you do tree observations in Lesson 20.  We are not there yet!

So how does it work?  Each of the 21 lessons includes a reading assignment from the text (well, the last lesson is review, so it doesn't.)  There are questions in the Student Book, and usually there is something to label.  The Teacher Guide includes answers for all of the student work.  There are also activities, which usually involve getting out and looking at real plants.  Mostly trees.

The hardest part about this program for us is that last little bit.  Let me show you our view:

The assignments that suggest taking a stroll and checking out all the various trees clearly need a bit of planning on our part.

Some of the assignments are possible without a field trip.  I told the kids to take pictures of the very first lesson, where they were supposed to take a look at all the different plants right around their home.

They told me this assignment was easy, as all we have is prairie grasses.  They were a bit surprised to discover that there is a lot more variety out there than they were expecting.

Had they gone a bit further from the house -- or done it in a bit later in the year, we could have found even more.

While this is called "Book of Trees" it covers far more than just trees.
  1. Unit I: The Root & Stem - these five lessons cover roots and stems of all kinds of land plants.
  2. Unit II: Leaves - we are finishing up these four lessons on the structure of leaves.
  3. Unit III: Photosynthesis & Respiration - these five lessons get more technical, with chemical formulas and all that fun.
  4. Unit IV: Flowers & Fruits - five more lessons covering the types and structures of flowers and fruits.
  5. Unit V: Observing Trees - the final section includes one long lesson on trees, forms for observing a whole lot of trees, and a review lesson.

Lesson 8 had us gathering up leaves from different trees, so after an overnight at the zoo, Trina and I stopped in town and checked out the tree varieties on a hiking trail.

We were able to gather up leaves from five or six different types of trees, and while we were at it, we also examined the bark (from a previous lesson) and the roots of an uprooted tree.

That was one of the best hikes we've taken in a long time, as we had something specific that we were looking for and we were able to apply the things we've been learning to what we were actually observing.

This is what I like about the concept of nature study.

Our bottom line on this study is that it is a great mix of fairly short readings, with a lot of real science information included.  The questions and diagramming help the information to stick.  Then getting out and looking at real plants makes this even better.

The best part is that the bookwork for most of the lessons takes maybe an hour, so you can learn a lot about Botany without making it a huge part of your week. 

We also tend to discuss the "Reading and Questions" section, and I don't typically have Trina actually write out the answers.  All of the labeling activities, though, she does complete.

Sometimes I think I'm letting her off too easy this way, but she is retaining the information, and that is more important to me than filled-in pages!

When we finish Book of Trees, we are moving on to Book of Insects.  We might need to get What's That Bird? too.  I think maybe we just need to do all of the Memoria Press science products!

Go check and see what other Crew Members had to say about this and other Memoria Press products:

Latin, Nature and Trees {Memoria Press Reviews}

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