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.