Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Brief Reflection on the School Shootings

I'll keep it brief because, to me, it is sadly simplistic.  Guns don't kill people.  People kill people.  Crazy kills people.  Crazy will find a way to kill people whether or not crazy has a gun.  Before crazy had guns, crazy had something else.  In fact, the most deadly school massacre in history was committed with a bomb.

Wow.  I had actually written six more paragraphs.  I've been writing for the last 30 minutes.  I got a Blogger error.  I wept (metaphorically).  I guess the universe is telling me to keep it shorter.  I'll just add back the part about Fr. Luke Suarez.  Please keep him in your prayers.  He needs them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How Much Time Off Is Too Much?

One of my big "things" is that we school year-round, but this year we have ended up taking off the last six weeks, and it is definitely likely that we will not start up again until after the New Year.  I'm pretty sure, my friends, that that counts as the equivalent of a summer vacation.  The fact is, though, that I can't get it all done right now unless we take some time off.  The following things are breathing down my neck:

  1. Changing the playroom into Mary-Catherine's room
  2. Keeping up with my edHelper work, my work for my main client, Colby, and my weekly writing for BellaOnline
  3. Trying desperately to free my house from the junk stranglehold on it right now

I love doing school, but I just can't fit it in right now.  I can just hear all of the public school advocates shrieking "A-HA!" triumphantly.  Sigh.  As I've said before, though, I honestly believe learning takes place all the time.  Last night my kids watched a double-feature of Raging Planet and they learned a ton about lightning and volcanoes.  Actually, they were a little peeved because they already knew everything about volcanoes and they were disappointed not to get some new information.  Can I pull out the lesson planner and check off Science for yesterday? Oh...wait a minute:

    4.   Endeavoring once and for all to make lesson plans and stick to them. 

Double sigh. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Opus XIX

Grand organs are a tradition in cathedrals.  We are fortunate in Houston to have a gorgeous cathedral:

A cathedral this gorgeous deserves an organ just as amazing:

The Opus XIX is too technical for me to try to describe, but it is well-worth reading about.  Its FAQ sheet does it justice.  Thanks to a friend of mine, we were able to get up close and personal with this incredible instrument yesterday.  After First Friday Mass, we got a tour of the organ, after which Therese and Nicky got to play it.  Yes, they got to play an organ so special it has a nationally known name.  What an honor and a privilege!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Don't Look At My Kids Askance Because They're Not in School...

I'm not the only one to whom this has happened...over and over and over! We have been taking it kind of (okay, very) easy with school for the past couple of weeks.  My husband has been off of work.  My twins had their birthdays (and, in the tradition of their paternal grandmother, they didn't just celebrate once; they celebrated many times).  We are transforming our playroom into a bedroom for M-C.  There are lots of reasons.

To that end, we have been out and about in public A LOT during school hours.  At the mall.  At restaurants.  At the grocery store.  Sometimes I *know* people are looking at me funny (although, to be honest, doesn't it seem like there are so many kids out and about in public during the day lately that it feels like the homeschool revolution is in full swing? If the revolution has started, I'll bring the catapults - you know, the ones we've all made to demonstrate either physics, medieval warfare, or something!).

I digress.  My kids may not be doing formal school right now, but this was the scene in my living room last night around 8:00.

Circuits were being completed and sirens were being heard.  I guarantee they didn't think they were doing school.  So, I really don't worry if we are not in the schoolroom at 8:30 of a Wednesday morning.  My kids are learning.

Then there is that tiny matter of the fact that we school year-round, so while all those public school darlings are laying around the pool or the house, we're, um, well, reading great books, watching wonderful documentaries, playing on the iPad.  Gee, that doesn't sound a whole lot like school either.  I think I need to have a talk with my children's teacher.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange

Almost two months ago, my friend organized a Jesse Tree ornament exchange.  I need to be totally honest here.  Prior to that point, I actually thought of Jesse Trees as something far more common to Protestant tradition than to Catholic.  I couldn't have been more wrong! Jesse Trees as art have their origin in Medieval times.  This stained glass window at the Chartres Cathedral is one of the earliest depictions of a Jesse Tree, which is really just a genealogical depiction of Jesus' family tree.

Here's a closeup of the bottom of the bottom panel of the window: 

Obviously, the Jesse Tree is inherently Catholic! 

Sometimes Protestants and Catholics have different ways of "doing" a Jesse Tree, though, which should not be surprising, given that Catholics have such a rich way of living the Liturgical Year (brief aside: I always get a thrill of excitement when we get to daily Mass and see red vestments - of course, I just admitted that I don't always make myself aware of the saints' feast days ahead of time!).  Here are a couple of my favorite Jesse Tree resources.  One reason I chose these (apart from the fact that they really are my favorites) is that not as many people know them as Catholic Icing, etc. (which are also great).

So I can't wait for Advent! Without further ado, with photo credit to my friend, Lindsey, here are my Jesse Tree ornaments from the exchange!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review of Vocal Coach Singer

Can you sing? If so, you're way ahead of me! I mean, I sing in church, sure, and I sing to my kids (lullabies when they were younger, songs in and for school now). I can carry a tune, but no one could ever accuse me of having sweet dulcet tones.  There is talent in my family, though.  My older sister has a beautiful voice.  My father has been singing his whole life, from glee club in college to Archdiocesan choir today (that's the official choir of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston; it's an audition choir).  Thanks to my Dad, my elder kids are getting piano lessons and I *really* want them to be able to sing while they play (a whole different skill set!). Sadly, I don't have the talent to teach them to sing.

Enter, The Vocal Coach Singer.  This comprehensive training program brings two professional singing teachers straight to your home.  Through a series of exercises and lessons, both you and your children can learn to sing!

What is included in this all-encompassing program? Bear with me. Vocal Coach Singer includes all of the following (straight from the horse's mouth...or the website!):

7 Training CDs:

  • Getting Started
  • Complete Breathing
  • Complete Warm-Up
  • Complete Tone
  • Complete Expanding Your Range
  • Complete Diction
  • Complete Performance

4 Workout CDs:

  • Daily Workout High Voice 1 & 2
  • Daily Workout Medium/Low Voice 1 & 2

Plus these great educational tools:

  • Guidebook – Full-size Instructional Guidebook to Ensure Success
  • Printable Lead Sheets – each exercise in our course, plus track lists
  • Personal Singer's Journal (Getting Started Journal & Workout Journal) to Track Your Progress
  • Vocal Coach Song Evaluation – Evaluation form to enable you to make more intelligent song selections

In my case, I didn't receive the CDs, but rather I downloaded MP3 files.  The more things I can store on my computer, the happier I am!

Although Vocal Coach Singer does not come with lesson plans, it is fairly easy to follow.  The CDs (or MP3s) seem to follow in a natural progression (the one listed above).  You can go as slowly or as quickly as you see fit.  The Guidebook explains things like posture and taking care of your voice, but doesn't really explain the "nuts and bolts" of the program.  Again, that is not a detriment, but it is something to be aware of. Homeschoolers looking for a traditional music curriculum might be taken off guard, but those looking for bona fide singing training will likely be delighted.

The MP3 files vary in length. Some are only a couple of minutes long, while some are up to five or six minutes long.  Chris Beatty conducts most of the lessons, but Carol Beatty often asks questions or clarifies things, much as a parent might do if she were present for the lessons.  Both are pleasant and easy to listen to.  

As I indicated, there is great flexibility in this program.  While it comes with a journal to record what you do each day, songs you practiced, questions you have, etc., I didn't have my 11 year-old daughter use the journal.  As we progress through the program, I foresee her using it, but to start, I just wanted her to familiarize herself with the breathing and the exercises.  I didn't want this to seem like "school", per se.  I wanted it to seem more like dance or piano - an extracurricular activity for her to enjoy and benefit from.

She has done both with Vocal Coach Singer.  Although I was going to use the program with my younger kids, too, I honestly don't think they're ready for it yet.  Some of the breathing exercises are, to their immature ears, funny.  Think Lamaze-style breathing sounds.  From my perspective, though, I have learned so much about how a singer uses her whole body to create sound.  I even think that I might be sounding a little better - and we're not done with the program yet! It's amazing how posture, control, etc. make such a difference in the final sound.  As long as you are not truly and honestly tone deaf, I absolutely think this program will make you a better (and, in my case, more confident) singer.  My daughter needed far less help than I.  She sounds beautiful, but I think that she has a lot more voice hiding beneath her shyness.

Vocal Coach Singer is available for $119.99 for the CDs or $99.99 for the MP3 downloads.  When you compare that to the cost of private singing lessons, you realize that this product is an incredible value! My family is really excited to continue learning with Vocal Coach Singer.  To see how other families felt about this product, visit the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received Vocal Coach Singer free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Great Apps for School

I don't usually send my blog readers over to my Sons page at BellaOnline, but today I wrote a post about two great apps that I think everyone should know about.  Since I don't write content that duplicates that at my Sons site, I'm sending you over to Bella! These are such great apps that if you have an iPad and kids who like horror classics (think Poe and Shelley), you won't want to miss them! After you read my article on these iPad classics apps, use the link at the bottom to jump over my forum to tell me about your favorite apps.  I just got the 4th generation iPad, and with 64 gb, I finally have room for tons of great apps!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review of Grace and Truth and Books' Seven Favorite 19th Century Children's Stories

Grace and Truth Books is a Christian bookstore, but it's not just any Christian bookstore.  According to its website, "Grace and Truth Books isn’t a Christian bookstore that follows the latest trends. We know that the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to do with fancy packaging or attempting to resemble secular literature or media." Instead, Grace and Truth Books focuses on glorifying the Lord and on providing its customers with the best selection of Christian literature, both old and new.  Their prices are very competitive, and if you live in the U.S., shipping is free with a $49 purchase!

Through the Review Crew, I received for review 7 Favorite 19th-Century Children's Stories.  Part of the Children's Heritage Instructional Series, these stories were originally published in the 1800s by the American Tract Society.  The ATS was founded in 1825 for the purpose of disseminating Christian literature, which I knew, but what I didn't know was that some of their literature was in the form of these precious stories!

Each of the stories is told in slightly different formats.  Farmer Goodwin's Rule is told all in one chapter in about 18 pages.  The next story, though, Ruth's Reward, is almost twice as long and is told in 3 or so page chapters.  The variety in the length and type of stories makes this book great for families in which some children are more advanced readers than others.  Of course, all books like this were just made for read alouds!

I read this book to all of my children (11, 9, 7, 7), not as part of school, just as pleasure reading.  Because my children, like many homeschooled children, are familiar with and love the classics, the old-fashioned tone of these stories resonated with them.  The formal language, the emphasis on virtue, and the tone of Godliness ever-present make these stories feel like the perfect combination of a bedtime story your great-grandmother (my grandmother) might tell you in Sunday school -- if that makes sense!  These truly are stories.  They are not lessons.  They are not sermons.  They are stories.  If you've ever read Stories from Grandma's Attic, these stories remind me of those.

All of my kids loved all of the stories.  There were no favorites.  There were no "that's for girls," or "that's for boys." Each of the kids took something a little different away from them.  My oldest really enjoyed the more sophisticated vocabulary.  A couple of years ago, in conjunction with her Latin root studies, she did a study on the 100 most used words in classical literature (countenance is number one!).  She was really excited to see so many of those words in these stories.  My twins just love anything that seems old-fashioned.  The Little House books are their favorites of all time.  My youngest son with his special love of Bible stories was very drawn to the wonderful descriptions opening the story of The Lost Lamb.  Truthfully, there is nothing not to recommend these charming stories!

Of course, there's always the price...which in this case is wonderful! This 167 page book is only $6.95! Remember, though, that you get free shipping with a $49 purchase.  Trust me when I say that you won't have any trouble finding other great books on the Grace and Truth Books site.  Christmas anyone!?

Crew members got to review a bunch of different great books from this wonderful publisher, so make sure to read the Crew blog to find some other new favorites.


Disclaimer: I received this book free in exchange for my honest review. I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review of Modesty Matters You Can Sew!

Modesty Matters is one of those companies that I know I will be recommending over and over again.  Through the Molly Crew (part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew), my 11 year-old daughter was able to check out their "Home Economics: You Can Sew!" self-paced sewing curriculum, and I am so glad she did! Therese has always wanted to sew, but I have never been able to teach her (because, well, I don't know how!).  She received a very nice sewing machine for her birthday last year and very quickly taught herself how to operate it and how to sew straight and simple seams.  She really wanted to be able to learn to make "real things" though.  When I found out about this curriculum, then, I was so excited for her to be able to try it!

The You Can Sew! course is a comprehensive learning to sew course.  Your child (or you!) will learn everything you need to know to be able to sew, beginning with the very basics (truly, one of the first things you do is learn the parts of the sewing machine and label a diagram with the proper names).  You take a field trip to the fabric store to buy the appropriate supplies and you learn how to operate your machine before you tackle even the simplest project.  

Are you intimidated because you are a visual learner and are afraid that you won't be able to follow the directions in the detailed lesson plans? Don't worry! The entire course is on DVD! Everything you need to see is demonstrated for you very clearly and if you miss it the first time, you can simply back it up and watch it again.  If you're not sure if this style of learning will work for you, check out the free video tutorials at Modesty Matters to see just how helpful these visuals are.

The course is comprised of all of the following:

  • 5 DVDs with 65 class videos
  • 159 page written text contained in a sturdy binder
  • CD with 5 exclusive patterns
  • 30 page glossary
  • Box in which to keep it all
The program costs $159.00 and is recommended for ages 10+.

But what is it really like? Quite simply, You Can Sew! is exactly what it says it is: you really can sew.  I have always been afraid to sew, but I'm not afraid to continue to learn after using this program.  Even though my daughter knows her way around her sewing machine, we started at the very beginning of the course and began with the very first lesson.  She's not too big on labeling worksheets, so I let her just show me what everything was on the sewing machine, but she definitely didn't mind taking a trip to Hobby Lobby and scouring the notions wall for a new stitch ripper, ruler, and scissors.  I'll admit that when it came to fusible and non-fusible interfacing, I had to ask for help!

Therese has been able to work on her sewing with very little help from me.  Although we are not using it as a formal Home Ec curriculum, it is definitely meaty enough for one.  Instead, Therese tends to sew on the weekends.  Because of that, and because of the excellent foundation You Can Sew! provides in terms of learning all of the basics of the sewing, Therese has only completed her first project (although she has her fabric picked out for the apron - her next project!).  I am not posting her finished pincushion picture because it is a Christmas present for a regular reader of this blog! Suffice it to say that she is *very* excited to have something so pretty that she made to give to someone very special to her!

Although You Can Sew! is a lengthy all-encompassing curriculum, the fun doesn't stop there! Therese is really looking forward to finishing the course so that she can begin Sewing Through History! After all, doesn't every girl need a Colonial costume dress?! Modesty Matters provides many ways to continue to build on the sewing skills it has taught!

My daughter was so blessed by this curriculum.  In fact, my son keeps asking when he can learn to sew! If you think that you can't learn to sew, or you want to teach your daughter but worry that you won't be able to, this course is well-worth the cost.  If you consider the cost of the average elective, but realize that this one is reusable for your family members, the price becomes very affordable.

To see how other Molly Crew members used You Can Sew!, read the other reviews.  At least then you'll get to see some really pretty finished pincushions!


Disclaimer: I received this product free in exchange for my review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review of Apologia "Journeys of Faithfulness"

There is seemingly no end to the wonderful, educational, and inspiring products published by Apologia.  Journeys of Faithfulness by Sarah Clarkson is one more offering that fulfills each of these descriptions.  It is wonderful - very simply, it is, with a few exceptions, good reading. It is educational - for some reason, when I read about women of the Bible, I always seem to learn something new.  It is definitely inspiring - it is impossible to read something published under the Apologia banner and not be inspired.  I'm convinced of it.

Journeys of Faithfulness uses the lives and journeys of Mary and Martha, Ruth, Esther, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus to show how God brings His grace into the lives of ordinary girls and calls them to be greater than they ever thought they could be.  You can view the full Table of Contents at Apologia's website.   Each faithful woman is studied in three chapters.  Each chapter also contains a devotional, a Bible study, and a journaling section.  The book is written in a very conversational way.  It in no way reads like a work of Theology or religion.  In order to appreciate the book's tone, take a look at the sample chapter.

Although this book is recommended for ages 12+, apart from thematic material (Joachim goes into the idea of a non-Immaculate conception with Mary a little too familiarly for my taste, especially considering that my daughter (11) is, as yet, innocent in these matters), I don't understand the age designation at all.  The book is written very simplistically.  Granted, my daughter is a very advanced reader, but I read portions of the book to all of my kids, the youngest of whom are 7, and none had trouble understanding the material.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On one level, it was some nice reading.  I always enjoy reading about Martha and Mary - the eternal conflict! On the other, I felt really uncomfortable with how...informally? basely? our Blessed Mother was portrayed at times.  I completely understand that her portrayal was done this way in order to demonstrate even more the glory of her Magnificat, but, given that Mary was conceived without original sin, she shows way more doubt and, really, lack of faith in this section than we as Catholics believe she experienced.

Here is where Protestant and Catholic beliefs really diverge on Mary (I guess - I don't know a whole lot about what Protestants believe about Mary since they don't really talk about her much), and it is the reason that my daughter did not like this book at all.  I have a better understanding of our differences, so I appreciated this book for what it was - a Protestant devotional for mothers and daughters.  Because Protestants look only to Scripture for their beliefs on Mary, the author was free to "fill in the blanks" as she chose as to much of Mary's response to the Incarnation.  In contrast, Catholics look to a rich tradition regarding all aspects of Mary.  Thus, these "fill in the blank" attributes of Mary are starkly at odds with how we view our Blessed Mother, whom we honor profoundly as the Mother of God.  If this chapter were not in the book, I really wouldn't mind recommending it to Catholics.

Although my daughter and I didn't really get much out of Journeys of Faithfulness, I need to be clear that we are not its target audience.  Apologia is a Protestant publisher creating materials for Protestant families.  This product fits the bill perfectly.  I still think that the age could probably be lowered a bit, but for mothers looking for some quiet time with their daughters, this product has much to recommend it.


Disclaimer: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review of Science Experiments in a Bag

For the past month, my kids have had the pleasure of conducting Science Experiments in a Bag from Activity Bags.  The products we reviewed include the following:

Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 1: This book provides examples of 25 simple science experiments in Biology, General Science, and Nature that you can do at home.  Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 2: Like E-Book 1, this book provides examples of 25 more experiments, but this time in Chemistry, Human Body and Science, and General Science.  Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 3: Focused all on Chemistry this time, there are 25 more great science experiments on-the-go in this collection.  The Science Experiments line is for Grades K-8, and each E-Book is $15.00.  A special bundle price of $39.00 is available for all three books.

Chances are that if you're familiar with Activity Bags at all, it is with Preschool Activity Bags.  Preschool Activity Bags were one of the very first things I ever bought when I started homeschooling years ago.  The concept is the same, but the variety is so much greater now! Activity Bags are premised on the concept that you can prepare everything you need for the activity in advance by putting the components in a gallon ziplock bag.  The bag can then be given to a child to do when the time comes.  You can prepare many bags in advance, or get together with other families to arrange a bag swap.  You can read much more about how to arrange a swap on Activity Bags' webpage.

My kids really loved these science experiments because they are so much fun.  I really loved them because they are so easy to pull together and they require almost nothing of me (Sorry - I know I should love science...I'm trying!).  It is a science-averse homeschooling mother's dream to find a product that lets her give her kids what she knows they should have without requiring her to have to put it all together or formally teach it.  Science Experiments in a Bag are proof positive that science does not always have to formal for kids to learn a ton.  In fact, when it is fun and easy like it is with Activity Bags, I think kids tend to learn more...because they really want to keep learning.

Each Science Experiment in a Bag is set up in the E-Book in the same way.  For example, the Floating Egg Experiment (a favorite in my house) is presented this way in the table of contents:

Floating Egg (Chemistry)
- Assembly Instructions …………………………………………………………………………… 32
- Experiment Log ………………………………………………………………………………….. 33-34
- Experiment Answers …………………………………………………………………………….. 35
- Experiment Bag Label Master

Every experiment is presented with the same headings.  It makes assembling them very easy because there is complete continuity.  You always know what to expect.  Further, see where it says "Experiment Log"? Each experiment gets its own specific log sheet with its own specific information.  For little kids, this makes teaching them how to fill out a lab report so much easier.  They don't get discouraged because they hardly have to write anything.  Generic lab forms are great for older kids, but for elementary school aged kids, an experiment specific form will not make them hate science solely because of having to report results.  I just love that about these experiments.

So far, my kids have done a few activities from each of the E-Books.  I have let them choose which ones they want to do and then had my eldest daughter put them together (she really wanted to be included, but I didn't want her higher knowledge to interfere with the other kids' learning experience).  I checked that she had assembled them correctly and then watched discreetly while the kids performed the experiment.  Most of the experiments have only taken around 30 minutes or less (sometimes the write-up runs over that time a bit).  Of course, if your kids really like what they're doing it might take longer.  When my kids made glue with vinegar, they made more glue.  And more.  When they were learning about how fire fighters put out fires, they used a lot more baking soda than the experiment called for.  Of course, the experiment wasn't meant to be done two dozen times.  That's the point of science that kids love, though, right? They want to do it again and again? That's another great point in favor of Activity Bags: your kids can do the experiments over and over and it really won't cost you more than if they do it once since the experiments use things you already have.

My kids also received Travel Activities in a Binder,  a collection of classic (and some new!) ways to divert kids on car trips.  As a slight departure from the typical "in a bag" format, all you have to is print off the activity pages, put them in plastic page protectors, avail yourself of dry erase markers, and go! This E-Book is $15.00 and is for Elementary ages.  To get a great idea of what is in this E-Book, check out the Travel Activities Sample.  We haven't gone on a road trip since we received this product, but that hasn't stopped my kids from doing some of these activities.  For example, there are mazes! There are drawing activities! Anything that doesn't actually require a car trip (and most of the activities do, which is, after all, the point!) has been done in my house.  My kids love this book.  They can't wait to play Road Sign Bingo.

I'm so glad that Activities in a Bag have grown with my children.  The concept is simple but elegant and kids love it.  There are many more Activities in a Bag than those discussed here, so be sure to read the Crew blog!


Disclaimer: I received these products free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review of Beloved Books' Sugar Creek Gang CDs

"Mommy! These are my favorite CDs ever!" (Michael, 7).  No, this cry is not the ecstatic outburst of a child unfamiliar with the exciting world of audiobooks.  In fact, my kids have listened to audiobooks almost daily since they were born.  Even more than audiobooks, my kids are aficionados of old time radio shows - that long lost art of the "theater of the mind" that was so popular in our grandparents' day.  As a collector, I have over 100K shows and have been sharing my love with my children for many years.

Why does any of this matter? Because for my son to proclaim that The Sugar Creek Gang, Volume 1 CDs from Beloved Books are his favorite CDs ever is for him to make a very informed judgment.  The boy knows his audio.

The Sugar Creek Gang CDs are a wonderful hybrid of old time radio and audiobook.  Originally, these stories were written in the late 1930s-early 1940s by Paul Hutchens.  Several years ago, they were dramatized for radio.  This decision was a match made in heaven for my children! Stories written during the golden age of radio, but then dramatized in the age of the audiobook! Genius!

The books are read straight from the text so the simplicity and strength of the original stories shines through. The stories themselves are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler's dream, interspersed as they are with scripture, nature study lessons, and poetry.  These interjections are so seamless, though, that they absolutely belong to the story.  There is nothing forced to their inclusion - they are part of the original stories! These stories are living books masquerading as adventure stories!

When my children (all four of them) love a product this much, it is almost impossible to say anything else about it.  My 7 year-old didn't want to go to sleep until he got to the end of a story (each story is two hours, and this set of CD contains six stories).  Then he wanted to start another one.  My other 7 year-old (his twin sister) didn't want to wait for her turn for the CD player at bedtime once he started raving about wonderful the stories were, so she camped out with him.  Once I started listening (because, of course, I had to go into the room to try to solve the problem!), I didn't want to leave either! The Beloved Books website talks about how wonderful these stories are for Christian families, and they are, but even more than that: they are wonderful for anyone.  In fact, they are a wonderful gift for a non-Christian family, because the stories draw you in and Jesus can work subtly behind the scenes!

This CD set includes the following stories:

The Swamp Robber
The Killer Bear
The Winter Rescue
The Lost Campers
Chicago Adventure
The Secret Hideout

The Secret Hideout is my favorite, but you'll have to listen to them all to pick yours!

The Sugar Creek Gang CD set, Volume 1, contains 12 CDs consisting of six stories.  It is available for $54.95.  HOWEVER! With the coupon code reViewpoint-20 you can save 20% on your entire order from Beloved Books.  This great deal makes The Sugar Creek Gang CDs only $43.96.  That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but your kids will listen to these CDs over and over and over and...get the idea? Best of all, when they fall in love with them, you can buy the other five volumes of the Sugar Creek Gang CDs!

Obviously, these CDs were a huge hit with my family.  To see how other Crew families liked them, visit the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received these CDs free in exchange for my review.  All opinions are mine and I received no other compensation.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of Samson's Classroom

Samson's Classroom is an online reading program for grades K-5.  It is designed to create better readers.
There are three components to Samson's Classroom.

Reading with Sampson is the component of Sampson's Classroom that my three youngest children (7, 7, and 9) used most.  They love it, and I am so glad to have something like it in our school.  Reading comprehension is one of those things that, as a Charlotte Mason/Classical homeschooler, I just assume my children are "getting" through narrations, etc.  I think, to a large extent, that I am right.  Standardized tests are a sad fact of life, though, and it is very reassuring to have a program that specifically tests aspects of reading comprehension like main idea, order of events, etc.  Samson's Classroom does so with fun reading passages that vary just perfectly in difficulty and topic.  Hints are available to help your child if he is struggling with a question, and rewards are accrued which allow him to take hammer swings at the fair (in the picture on the right).  Honestly, my kids are not very reward driven, though, and they just liked the novelty of reading and answering questions.  If you're a homeschooled kid, then sometimes activities like that are few and far between!

Sight Words with Samson is for beginning readers, of which I have none.  It helps early readers master the 224 most commonly used words in the early language through fun games.

Finally, Spelling with Sampson includes over 7,000 words with even more being added. You can use pre-made lists, or enter your own.  Your children then learn the words in an iterative process while having so much fun that they won't even realize that they're learning! There are games, including Karate Chop (in which you tell Samson the Dog which part of the word to "chop" to correctly complete the spelling of the word), a favorite of my boys.  The neatest feature, though, is the learning aspect.  You can have every word in the list pronounced, read in a sentence, and spelled.  The reader's voice is pleasant, well-modulated, and easily understood.  He is the perfect spelling teacher.  Spelling with Samson takes all of the spelling onus off of the parent.  Creating your own lists is easy (but using theirs is even easier!).

Samson's Classroom also includes lesson plans and (free!) worksheets, but the real value is in the subscription.  Unlike many online learning programs that get really expensive when you start adding kids, Samson's Classroom starts out reasonable and stays reasonable.  All the features for one user costs $30.00 per year, but a family subscription, good for four users, is only $50.00 per year.  I know that the homeschool dollars are few and far between, but this subscription is really one to consider, especially if you have both beginning and more advanced readers.  Samson's Classroom covers everything so very well!  

My kids really like Samson's Classroom, and they will continue to use it and learn from it for the next year.  To see how other Crew members used it, especially if you are interested in the amazing new Sight Words program, please do read the Crew blog!

Disclaimer: I received a year's premium subscription to Samson's Classroom free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Prayer of St. Augustine

Last week, my friend's husband died in a car accident in Vail, CO.  I have known my friend since Kindergarten.  In one of those funny ways that life has of twisting and turning, we remained friendly through high school.  She was in band and so sweet and kind and pretty (all things I definitely did not feel I was - well I was assuredly not in band.  Or sweet.), but our paths did not really cross socially.  However, the fact that she was Catholic and that we had been friends in elementary school always made me feel a connection with her.   There was a small group of such girls I felt that connection with, and the friendships persist to this day.  Ironically, all are Catholic.

In any case, my friend, TABO, and I reconnected again when I saw her at church after I had had my first baby.  That's when I found out that she had married someone else from our high school and taught elementary school.  She was as sweet as ever.

Fast forward another few years and we became friends on FB (God bless FB - it has its place in the world). It was through FB that she got in contact with me to ask me about homeschooling, and it was through homeschooling that we became the friends we are today.  Well, it was actually probably more through our faith, but that faith finds its fulfillment in homeschooling.

So my friend has lost her husband.  She has three young children. Mary-Catherine has been bereft for TABO's oldest, who is her age.  She can't comprehend what she is going through.  Meanwhile, TABO is conducting herself with grace and serenity far, far beyond what anyone could expect of someone going through what she is going through.  She is an inspiration.

So what does St. Augustine have to do with any of this? His prayer is the one I have been saying for TABO since I first found out that her husband had been hurt:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake,
or watch, or weep tonight,
and give your angels and saints
charge over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,
rest your weary ones,
bless your dying ones,
soothe your suffering ones,
pity your afflicted ones
shield your joyous ones.

And all for your love's sake.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of A, TABO's husband.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review of Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers

I've been able to review some really neat things through my position on the Review Crew, but Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers have to be some of the coolest.  Simple but effective, these reading rulers have so many applications that probably not even Crossbow Education itself thought of all of them when they created them!

The rulers are made of a sturdy plastic and come in the colors seen in these two pictures.  Although they were designed for people who suffer from visual stress (socoptic sensitivity), they can actually be used by anyone who knows how to read and has a particular reason for wanting to narrow the amount of text in focus on a page.
I have such a person in my house! Michael is 7 and, like many boys, he loves Redwall books.  While he is completely capable of reading the books and understanding them, there is a *lot* of text on the page and the writing is very small.  When I saw these rulers, I thought they would be good for him to help him focus only on a small part of the page at a time so that he would not be overwhelmed by the entire page.  As it happens, the rulers are a little too big and bulky to be used for this purpose (which is actually a point in their favor, I think.  They are very sturdy - a plus in a homeschool house).  

Although I wasn't able to put the rulers to use in the way I had planned (to make reading small print easier for my son), I soon realized that the proper place for them is in the schoolroom (which is probably where I should have used them in the first place).  Because the rulers allow a child to focus on only a small part of the page, they are ideal for use in looking up words in a dictionary, a favorite part of Language Arts for my 7 year-old daughter.  Finding the guide words at the top of a the dictionary page is the easy part for a young child, but scanning the entire page for a specific word can get tricky, especially when there are lots of similar words.  The Eye Level Reading Ruler allows a child to digest only a small group of words at a time, rather than being tempted to try to take in the entire page.  This feature really helps to build confidence when looking up words in the dictionary.  

The other surprise use I found for the Reading Rulers was for my 11 year-old daughter.  Like my other kids, my 11 year-old reads way above grade level.  In fact, her Theology textbook is high school level.  While she understands the material, she sometimes get discouraged by the sheer volume of words on the page.  It is amazing how she has responded to using the Reading Ruler.  It is kind of like the adage by which many of us live - take it one day at a time, and if you can't take it one day at a time, then take it one hour at a time.  Well, sometimes with school work you can't take it one page at a time.  It's still too much. The Reading Ruler lets you take it one paragraph at a time.  So if you have older children who read way above grade level, consider this product for them as well.  It helps break up the reading into more manageable chunks, while bringing a little fun and novelty into it as well.

I am blessed not to have a child with visual stress, so I can't evaluate the extent to which these rulers solve that problem (of course, I am convinced that they do, just by reading the fabulous information on the rulers on the Crossbow website!). For gifted kids, though, I think they are great.  They allow kids who can comprehend a lot more than their maturity level often allows to slow down the intake process a little.  Any product that does that is a huge winner in my book!

Crossbow offers a couple of different kinds of rulers.  Those that I received come in a 10-pack for $16.95. I know that these rulers will help my advanced kids read more things that they want to (even if their brains may fight it at first!).  To see how other Crew members used the rulers (and there was a lot of diversity this time!), read the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received these reading rulers free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eye Candy...

...lace knitting style!

I kind of remember a time when I used to knit every day.  Now, if I'm lucky, I look at shawls on Ravelry a couple of times a week.  These are my current favorites: