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Review of Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs is a really great way for kids to learn how to read. Several years ago, Michael and I reviewed Reading Eggs, but I haven't looked at it since. Well, there have been big changes over at Reading Eggs, so if you haven't looked at in awhile, now is the time to check it out again! For one thing, Reading Eggs has just added brand new Homeschool Program Guides! Designed for K-2 grades, these guides provide a 36-week overview and teaching plan for Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. They are such a value add for Reading Eggs. They can be found under the Bonus Materials section of the program:


Although Michael is too old for Reading Eggs now (we got to review the Reading Eggspress portion of the program), I do want to tell you a little about it. Reading Eggs teaches children to read in 120 lessons broken into groups of ten. Spelling lessons and reading comprehension are part of the program, and a placement test is used to make sure your child starts in the right place. Of course, if you think your child has been placed in the wrong part of the program, you can adjust that placement. I'll remind you again at the end of the review, but if you have a child at the "learning to read" stage, definitely read the other reviews of Reading Eggs to find out much more about how it works.


Reading Eggs*

What I can speak much more authoritatively about is Reading Eggspress, the part of Reading Eggs that Michael (12) used for this review. I'll be honest: when I told Michael that he would be reviewing this program, he was not excited. He told me that he knows how to read (obviously) and that he doesn't need to use a reading program. I told him that Reading Eggspress was much more about reading comprehension and inference and that it was for kids up to 13. He told me he understands what he reads just fine. I told him that was great - he would review it anyway.

I wish I could have recorded Michael's first half hour on Reading Eggspress. He mumbled and grumbled for the first 15 minutes or so as he took the placement test. I was watching over his shoulder. You can miss three questions before the program places you in your level. He complained that the questions that he got wrong were illegitimate and that he should have placed into a higher level, and then he started the program. I watched for a couple of minutes and then got back to my own work. After a few minutes, the grumbling stopped. After a few more minutes, I heard, "Oh, hey! Trading cards! I didn't know they had trading cards! Game changer! Wow! I got a rare one!" So it turns out that you get trading cards as rewards for reading chapters of books and taking quizzes (comprehension, etc.). 

It was all uphill from there, by which I mean Michael began to love Reading Eggspress more and more with every lesson, especially when he realized that he was rewarded with golden eggs with which he could buy things like pets. There are many components to Reading Eggspress. I can see what Michael has done in a snapshot:



It's very true that Michael reads far more advanced books than those found on Reading Eggspress, but it's also clear that his comprehension skills need some work.


I've seen a few times where he doesn't read the whole question before attempting to answer it, and that has hurt him. The arcade game style of Reading Eggspress draws him in, though, and encourages him to keep "playing."


This is what the front  page of the program looks like. Kids have all of these options to choose from. 



Because Michael is dysgraphic, spelling is particularly challenging for him. He has not minded spelling with Reading Eggspress at all, which is great. He can always use more practice.


In this graphic, Michael's avatar is standing in his apartment lobby. Here, he can customize his avatar and view his trading cards. He can also buy furniture, choose paint colors, etc. Since I took this screenshot, Michael has added a sparkly unicorn to an animal family that already included two blue dogs.


This is the library. Here you can read books for which you are rewarded with golden eggs, which can be traded for avatar and apartment accessories.


Here's what Michael has to say about Reading Eggspress in his own words: "I like the incentive to complete lessons to earn eggs and trading cards and such. It's always more fun when you have a goal to accomplish. I've learned to slow down when I'm reading the questions at the end of books so that I see the whole question before I answer it. I think this would be best for younger kids, maybe 2nd through 5th grades, but I'm definitely going to keep using it while we have the subscription because I like getting the golden eggs. A couple of times I know I've had the right answer even though it was marked wrong, which is frustrating. I love the trading cards!!!!"

And there you have it. I think it is safe to say that Reading Eggspress is a hit in our house. As a side note, if you're an Ebates user, there is currently 5% Ebates on the Reading Eggs site! Also, there is a 4-week free trial so you can see if Reading Eggs is right for you! You really have nothing to lose. If you have younger learners and are more interested in the Reading Eggs side of the website, as opposed to Reading Eggspress, please definitely click the banner below to read all of the reviews, since many of them will focus exclusively on Reading Eggs and the "learning to read" aspect of the site.


Reading Eggs


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A Day in the Life

video

Saturday started with a fishing outing with 4-H. Both Henry and Nicky caught catfish (but I didn't get a picture of Nicky's - that's on Henry's phone). It ended with Therese going to homecoming. I feel like life is passing me by before I can take it all in...

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Review of CTCMath

CTCMath

After being on the Homeschool Review Crew since 2010, one thing is sure: we've seen math programs come and we've seen math programs go...well, that statement is almost true. Since we saw CTCMath come, we have yet to see it go. This math program became a favorite the first time my kids used the Family Membership back in 2014. In the intervening years, the kids (now 16, 14, 12, and 12) have all taken their turns with various levels of CTCMath. You can read all of our previous reviews here (which I would really encourage you to do because I try to target different things in each review). This time around, I'll be talking about Michael's and Mary-Catherine's (12) experience with Basic Math and Pre-Algebra (essentially 7th grade). Although we drifted away from this math curriculum in recent months, they were legitimately thrilled to hear that they would be going back to it for this review (and, actually, for the foreseeable future). In fact, when I was talking about the rest of high school with Therese (16), she was happy to remember CTCMath, and indicated that she would probably be returning to it for the rest of her high school math. After all, CTCMath goes all the way from K-Calculus!

CTCMath

What is CTCMath?
CTCMath is an Australian company, the brainchild of a homeschool father (which probably explains these amazing rates for homeschool families; N.B., the family rate covers up to *10* children plus you get 60% off + 6 bonus months!).


The lessons are done as short, PowerPoint style videos, followed by questions. For the younger grades, each lesson is less than five minutes. High school lessons are longer, but are still less than 15 minutes typically. My kids never do only one lesson in a sitting. Here is an example of a lesson in progress. The instructor's voice (in his awesome accent!) is narrating:


While there is an option for a printable worksheet to accompany each lesson, my kids have always opted to do all of their work online.

For grades K-8, CTCMath can be used as a standalone math curriculum, but for high school, they recommend it as a supplement to another program. Nicholas (14) used it to supplement another Geometry program in the past, and it worked wonderfully in that regard. 

One way in which CTCMath excels is with its teacher supports. For example, you can see at a glance what your children are up to:


You can assign tasks to them:


You can even look at every aspect of their upcoming (or past) lessons in the parent view:


One thing that has always irritated me (and my children) about other math programs is when I want to see certain things about their lessons and I have to log in as them and potentially disturb their progress to noodle around in their lessons. As you can see from the graphic above, that won't happen with CTCMath!

My Twins and CTCMath

As I indicated previously, my kids already knew that they loved CTCMath. Michael (12) has this to say: "I like how it shows you the lesson and then immediately afterward you do the questions. I just get it better with this program. He's a very good teacher." Mary-Catherine (12) says: "I like it because I've always had a math mental block (ME - true that), but whenever I'm doing CTC, it always seems to come more easily to me and I'm not intimidated."

For my part, I can tell you that although I have set the pass level at 80% for the twins, both of them keep going until they get 100% typically. It's a point of pride with them. They want to get everything right. They want to make their instructor proud (even though he has no idea how they're doing!). I love that.

My family is clearly sold on CTCMath. I have gotten it free for review, and I have paid for it myself. I will keep paying for it until all of my kids graduate. I believe in it that strongly. I'm sure there are differing opinions out there, so be sure to read all of the other reviews by clicking the banner below. If you're *still* not sure, you can always sign up for their free trial

CTCMath Online Math Tutoring {Reviews}
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Homeschool Regrets

...they're pointless. I've been homeschooling for nearly ten years now, and almost every day I look at my kids and think about the million things I could have done differently. I read blogs of younger moms with their cool ideas and their creativity. I think about the mistakes that I've made (and they have been legion). I look at my children and see the holes in their education because of those mistakes. I wonder if I made the right decision homeschooling.


What I try to do when I have those thoughts, though, is to give myself credit for the good things I have done by homeschooling them. They have been allowed to explore interests, express themselves, and experience things that they wouldn't otherwise have been able to. They have been able to miss school (sometimes a *lot* of school) because of prolonged and chronic illnesses without having to deal with intrusive bureaucracy. They have been able to study subjects that are not part of the Common Core. They have been able to enjoy school so very much!

I still doubt myself daily. I still regret my failures. Those regrets are pointless, though, because I can't go back. I always talk about the next time I homeschool in a joking manner, but, of course, that's silly. There's no going back, and living in the past (for whatever reason) won't get you anywhere but morose, and that's no fun for anyone. So if you tend, like me, to question your choices, my best advice is not to. If you're doing something that's not working, change it up, but don't waste time ruing what's already happened. It's done. Move on. That goes for everything in life. You'll be much happier for it.

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St. Michael - September 29


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Review of Heirloom Audio Productions' Captain Bayley's Heir

Heirloom Audio Productions
Heirloom Audio Productions always has wonderful stories, so we were super excited to receive Captain Bayley's Heir for review. 
Captain Bayley's Heir

Captain Bayley's Heir is another wonderful story from G.A. Henty. This time, the primary setting/time period is the California Gold Rush (one of my absolute favorite times in history), but there are so many other locations in the story! The action actually begins in England where main character, 18 year-old Frank Norris (hey - maybe we're cousins - that's my maiden name!), is accused of theft. Attempting to clear his name, he makes his way to America, ending up in New Orleans, and then making his way to California (after all, where else would a young man go in the middle of the nineteenth century on this side of the pond?). There are so many aspects of history that show up in the story all along Frank's journey. It's the best part of a G.A. Henty novel. You'd expect Indians, and there are Indians. You'd expect steamboats (why else would Frank show up in New Orleans?), and there are steamboats. There would have to be wagon trains, right? Of course there are wagon trains. Stagecoaches? Obviously. There is also everything you'd want to know about living in a mining town. Best of all, there's a surprise twist at the end! I wasn't expecting that! And because it's G.A. Henty, there are continual reminders that God's love and God's grace abound in everyday life.

Now, a G.A. Henty novel is always a treat, but a G.A. Henty full-cast audio production from Heirloom Audio Productions is nothing short of a delight! Brian Blessed is, as always, Henty himself (Mr. George), lending a continuity to all of the productions. Other cast members are familiar from previous productions. 


While the voice actors are amazing, the sound effects are what really set Heirloom Audio apart (after all, for great voice actors, there are audio books, right?). Nothing else sounds like Heirloom Audio. You are literally right there in the story. As soon as Mary-Catherine (12) turned on my old Sony Discman, she was mesmerized. "The fire! You can hear it crackling!" (N.B., this is not our first Heirloom CD, but it's the first one any of my kids has ever listened to with headphones; we usually listen in the car. Headphones make a great production practically unbelievable.)


While I wholeheartedly and unequivocally recommend any Heirloom Audio CD or mp3 download, I recommend their Live the Adventure Club even more. Through this club, you have access to so many extras to go along with your story! A little extra that I love is the ability to see the script of the story as it is playing in the background:


That's just the beginning, though! You can access the ebook of Captain Bayley's Heir (including beautiful full-color graphics), along with the exciting soundtrack that accompanies the story. There is, as always with Heirloom's G.A. Henty productions, a beautiful cast poster. There is also an inspirational hymn poster with Amazing Grace on it. One thing I really like this time is the desktop wall paper. Something about the cover art for this CD really appeals to me! I think it's just beautiful. The meat of the "extras" that you can access through the Live the Adventure Club, though, is the amazing Study Guide. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Heirloom's Study Guides are works of art in and of themselves (oh, and the content is on point).

The 36-page study guide is available either to download or to read online. It is dedicated thusly:


If I could, I would insert a bunch of heart emojis!

I love how the study guide introduction explains its divisions - about four to eight minutes of audio per section. That makes it so easy to predict how and when to use it. Like previous study guides from this company that we have used, the "chapters" of this one are divided into three sections each: Listening Well (basic recall), Thinking Further (what I call comprehension questions, which require more in-depth thinking, including drawing conclusions, analyzing motives, and intentions, etc.), and Defining Words (dictionary lookup). The study guide also has "Expand Your Learning" sections, which give extra "inside information" about the times. 


See what I mean when I say the study guide is a work of art?

The study guide concludes with Further Resources, a book list, with topical books related to all things covered in this story. It includes one of my favorites - "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew." Finally, Heirloom ends with a feature included in all of its study guides - Bible Studies. Each is about a page long on a single topic. The topics in this study guide are God's Grace, Honoring Your Parents, and Becoming a Christian.

Our family will continue to enjoy Heirloom Audio Productions' products over and over. I think Captain Bayley's Heir may well be one of my favorites. I would love for you to check it out! Also, be sure to read 99 other reviews by clicking the banner below!


Captain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}
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On Harvey

It's funny. I had said that I would be writing a Harvey retrospective, but it's still too close to home (literally and metaphorically). I can't really "talk" about it yet. I feel self-indulgent saying that, given all of the people I know who lost so much. We didn't lose anything apart from two refrigerator/freezers worth of food. What I can say is that we gained much from the experience. We realized that we have way too much and that we can do with much less. We are downsizing a lot of our junk. When we left our house with the realization that we might be coming home to a loss of the majority of our "stuff," we were, on some small level, at peace with that. That brought home how little that stuff means. Now, I'm not going to lie, my makeup collection and my yarn collection (and my pens!) are more important to me than they should be, but it's easier to say no to my acquisitiveness after Harvey.

One thing that has made everything so personal (apart from the most obvious one of my parents losing their home - something I make a conscious choice not to think about because it hurts so much) is how hard hit the people in my parish were. Many of their homes are directly in the watershed of the Barker Reservoir - beautiful homes along Memorial (if you live in Houston and know what that means). Our pastor said it best when he talked about some of the reverse snobbishness (my phrase - he was more elegant) happening in Houston right now: people not really caring about the neighborhoods I'm speaking of because they are affluent, but (as Father Troy said), when you've lost everything, you've lost everything, whether that's a little or a lot. Over the weekend, we joined members of our church (which, to put it in perspective, has over 5,000 families) in helping those who have lost their homes. We assembled and then delivered lunches and cleaning supplies to one of the neighborhoods around church. It was surreal in a way since just a few weeks earlier we had been mucking out my parents' house and people had been cruising my parents' neighborhood delivering lunches to *us*.

Why were these people only now cleaning out/tearing apart their houses? Their houses had been underwater for over two weeks. My parents' house flooded because of the rain water (and Cypress Creek). These people flooded because the Army Corps of Engineers released water from the Reservoirs. Thus, the water didn't recede when the flood waters did. Imagine for a minute having that nasty water, feet of it, in your house for over two weeks. Once you've smelled that smell in an entire neighborhood, you don't forget it. Of the people we talked to, none had flood insurance. I don't care how much money you have, if you don't have flood insurance on your half-million dollar house, that's going to hurt (N.B., flood insurance costs $450 a year - floods can happen anytime, anywhere, especially in Houston. I feel kind of silly saying this now, given that the program is broken, but I've had flood insurance since 1999 when we bought our first house (this one). Harvey was the first time we've ever come close to flooding. BUY FLOOD INSURANCE.)

Anyway, Houston still isn't Houston. People are still out of their houses. Businesses are still closed and some won't reopen. I'm about to go to the post office, which is operating out of a trailer since the office flooded so badly. It's funny. If you go just a few miles northwest, it seems like no one even notices any of this, but if you had to evacuate in fear, or if (infinitely worse), you lost your home and everything in it, Harvey changed  you. It changed me.

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On Anger



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Review of Barbour Publishing

Barbour Publishing

There is almost no feeling that we like better than getting a book in the mail, so we were all excited to receive Barbour Publishing's Imagine . . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich for review. 


IMAGINE... The Great Flood

If you think the cover looks exciting, you should read the book! This book is aimed at kids 8-12 and is 112 pages long. The premise is a time-tested favorite with kids of all ages (myself included!). A child experiences something in his own time period (in this case, he falls), and wakes up in another time period. In this book, ten-year-old Corey wakes up preparing Noah's Ark for the Great Flood! Prior to being transported back in time thousands of years, Corey had been upset with his family because of their impending move from Galveston, TX to Florida. After spending time with Shem in particular, but Noah's other sons as well (especially as their efforts to provision the ark are thwarted by the evil Elizar), Corey gains new perspective on trusting God and realizing that He will always take care of His needs.

Michael (12) read this book in one sitting, and boy did it arrive at an interesting time in our lives! First of all, we live in Houston, just a stone's throw away from Galveston, so there is that connection. Far more significantly, though, there is the flood connection! Hurricane Harvey hit right after Michael finished this book. Houston got 50" of rain in just a few days. I'm sure that everyone reading this review knows at least something about the hurricane, so I won't bore anyone with the details, but as we were evacuating our house in the dark of night when it began to look like we would end up flooding, I was *definitely* wondering if that was what Noah felt like - would the rain never stop? It really felt like it wouldn't. And when my parents' house, the house I grew up in, did flood, we all learned a thing or two about trusting in God's providence. When it felt like the entire world was going to wash away, I reminded myself over and over that God promised that he would never destroy the world by flood again!

Please forgive the brief digression - it's just funny how sometimes books appear in your life at interesting moments. Whether or not you've ever lived through a flood of Biblical proportions, Imagine . . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich is a wonderful example of Biblical Fiction for Kids! The age suggestion of 8-12 is exactly right for this book, and there is great news for those who love this kind of book! There are more books planned for the series! In fact, Imagine. . .The Ten Plagues is coming in Spring, 2018! Now, *that* is a book that I know I want to read!

Books are subjective things, so to see other opinions, be sure to click the banner below.


Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich {Barbour Publishing}

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Review of Progeny Press's Macbeth E-Guide

Progeny Press

Over the past ten years of homeschooling, we have completed more Progeny Press study guides than I can count, many of which I was lucky enough to get through the Homeschool Review Crew. You can read my past reviews here. This time around, we delved into the murky world of Macbeth with the Macbeth E-Guide (Grades 9-12)! 

Macbeth - E-Guide
The Macbeth E-Guide is comprised of the following parts:

  • Note to Instructor
  • A Special Note on Shakespeare's Plays
  • Synopsis
  • Background Information
  • About the Author
  • Suggestions for Prereading Activities
  • Act I
  • Act II
  • Act III
  • Act IV
  • Act V
  • Overview
  • Writing Projects
  • Additional Resources
  • Answer Key (in a separate file)

The Note to Instructor explains how Progeny Press study guides work, including expected pacing. The note on Shakespeare's Plays recommends a particular edition for ease of use and also points out that the plays were originally intended to be read aloud; hence, an audio recording can enhance the experience. Next comes a two-page synopsis and one page of Background Information, relating the play's historical basis. The About the Author section refers to Shakespeare's Bio, and not that of the Study Guide author (hey - I wasn't sure which it would be, so I wasn't sure if anyone else had the same question!). Among the Suggestions for Prereading Activities are background research work on the time period during which Macbeth takes place, map work on Scotland, reading Machiavelli's The Prince, and other topical and interesting activities. 

Then comes the meat of the study guide. For each act of the play, the study guide follows the same format.

  • Vocabulary 
  • Scrambled Quotation
  • General Questions (short answer)
  • Analysis (longer answer)
  • Dig Deeper (more of an essay with more analysis required)
  • Extra Activities (could be formal essays, art projects, scenes to act out, and more)
The exception to the above format is that Act IV includes Discussion Questions. Following Act V, there are 15 final questions that tie the entire play together. They can be done either as oral discussion questions or as essay questions. They are intended for the student to reflect on the play as a whole.

At the end of the study guide are eight Writing Projects. These make great final essays, demonstrating mastery of the subject matter of Macbeth. They result in longer papers than the questions just preceding. Additional Resources round out the study guide. This is a page listing other plays by Shakespeare, books about him, and Shakespeare videos like Emma Thompson's Much Ado About Nothing from 1993. 

Nicholas and Macbeth

The target age for Macbeth is high school, so I had originally decided that Nicholas (14) would be the one to use this study guide, as he is a freshman in high school. However, since he doesn't love reading for school, and since Macbeth is a play, I decided that I would read it to all of my younger three children (Nicholas and my 12 year-old twins). It's never too early for Shakespeare! Proceeding in this manner, I read Act I of the play, and then a funny thing happened. As I was beginning to go through the study guide with Nicky, the twins were piping up with the answers. In that way, we ended up doing most of the study guide orally. Now, because Nicky is the one in high school, he did end up with a couple of paper assignments, but it was wonderful being able to use the study guide to generate discussion questions among the four of us. A question like:

is much more interesting when multiple people can share their opinions and discuss in a family group!

The essay questions were right on target for Nicholas's age. They were not too difficult, but they were far from too easy. In the past, I have found some of Progeny Press's elementary study guides a little too elementary for my children, but I have always enjoyed their high school guides very much. This one is certainly no exception. The Answer Key is thorough and provides you with everything you need to know to accurately evaluate your child's responses.

Homeschool Review Crew members reviewed several different Progeny Press guides, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews!

Study Guides for Literature {Progeny Press Reviews}

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Hurricane Harvey Retrospective Coming

Like everyone else in Houston, my family was impacted by Hurricane Harvey. When I have more time, I'll write a more detailed post about what it has been like going through this experience, but long story short - my family had to evacuate and my parents had to leave their house on a sheriff's boat after retreating to the second story of the house they have lived in since 1981 - the house that has never flooded before. They lost the entire first floor of their house to flood waters. I have five siblings, and every single one of them came together (from as far away as Kentucky) to tear out my parents' walls and everything else (church volunteers got to the floors before any of us could even get there! I was still evacuated and my siblings were unable to get into Houston). Here's a preview of coming posts:


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Review of Let the Little Children Come

Let the Little Children Come
Every so often we get a product for review that is not necessarily something that suits my family well, but that I know would be perfect for the majority of my readers. Let the Little Children Come's Is There Anything Better Than Candy? Box-Tract is one such product. When laid out flat, this evangelism product looks like this:
Let the Little Children Come Halloween Tract
When folded into a pumpkin shape, it looks like this:
Let the Little Children Come Halloween Tract
It can be used to hold candy or some other Halloween treat (a few pieces of candy corn or a caramel fits just perfectly), and can be given out to trick-or-treaters or used in a variety of different ways on Halloween. Its most important function, though, is obviously evangelism as it walks someone through the steps to knowing Jesus and asking him into one's heart.
There are 20 tracts in each pack, and assembly is fairly straightforward. Michael (12) assembled one sample Halloween Tract, and at first he found it a little tricky, but as soon as he figured it out, he proclaimed it easy and he thought the pumpkin was very cute. We kept the rest of the pumpkins intact since we will be donating them to friends who will be able to put them to excellent use with their church come Halloween!


The applications for these pumpkin tracts are limited only by one's imagination! As Halloween approaches, they would make an excellent activity for a Sunday school class, especially if the culmination of the lesson (after each leaf is explored and explained and the pumpkin is assembled) is filling the pumpkin with candy! They would also make a great addition to an Awana group! Of course, the most obvious application would be handing them out yourself to trick-or-treaters who come to your door (yes! There is something better than candy! Candy and Jesus is always a win-win!). If your church holds a Harvest Festival, rather than a Halloween party, these pumpkins will be right at home as decorations with a dual surprise (a Gospel message and a sweet treat!). Really, as I said, the applications are limited only by your imagination.

As for my family, we talked about the pumpkins and how the message conveyed by them differs from our Faith tradition, given that we are Catholic, but that just because people come to Jesus in different ways does not mean that we should focus on those differences more than we focus on our similarities. Christians share far more similarities than differences, and we should focus on those similarities while we pray for the reunification of Christendom.

As always, my opinion is one of many, so please do click the banner below to read all of the Crew reviews, and if you are in the market for child evangelism tools, definitely visit Let the Little Children Come, because they have you covered!
Is There Anything Better Than Candy?  {Let The Little Children Come Reviews}
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