Friday, November 16, 2012

Little Voices Raised in Praise


Don't you just love the sound of little voices raised in praise to the King? I sure do. One of the things we are striving to do in our homeschool is to make sure that all of our children are raised with an appreciation for the classic hymns of our parents and forefathers because they are so rich in doctrine and reflect our church history as Christians. One way we do this is to learn different hymns each month along with our Bible verses, one verse at a time. Since the Four Amigos are young, we sometimes stop after two verses, but with our favorites, we learn them all. That way when we are listening to music in the car, on the radio, or singing at church, the kids can join in, even if they can't read (or read fast enough to keep up) yet.

Sadly, many churches aren't teaching those precious hymns anymore in favor of more modern praise songs which tend to have fewer words, a more narrow focus, and to be more repetitive. Please don't get me wrong. I have my very favorite praise songs and worship tunes, too...we listen to KLOVE and a local station that plays contemporary Christian tunes, too. But there's something about the way those old hymns were instruct, build up, and yes, even sometimes chasten, that makes them so valuable, we just can't afford to lose them. Alas, if you walk into many churches on a Sunday, they will not sing even a contemporary remake of an old hymn, and I think that is sad.

It used to be that when you went to church (or so I've read or been told) that you would be taught how to really sing those songs well in a would learn how to harmonize and join in so that your voice enriches the sound of the song and adds to the worship of the Lord. People would sing together at parties, and sometimes perform for groups as part of the fun. Singing was something many people did...not just something people watch on television.

Now there is not really anywhere to learn to sing correctly, unless you join a choir or can afford to take voice lessons, and I think you have to feel that you have some natural ability or calling to sing to do that. Alas, while my father has a magnificent voice, and my mother is amazing on the piano, I think musical talent skipped me (hopefully in favor of my kids). I can read music passably well, and can pick out tunes for the kids to sing along with (as long as it is a beginner book, or by using just the top line of notes in a hymnal...add the left hand? Never!). I was in the choir in junior high school, but I don't remember much beyond "stand up straight" and "sing from the gut." For many years now, I've wished that I could find an older, non-judgmental woman who knows something about music and who would think my kids are cute and want to teach us how to harmonize. It's a dream of mine to be able to have the Amigos sing together for everyone at church...not for my glory, but for God's.

I also think the discipline behind singing together and learning to work together would be good for developing a family teamwork attitude. It's also a great way to be able to pass the time anywhere, with no advance preparation! Imagine road trips spent in harmony instead of irritation. What fun it would be to visit a sick grandmother and cheer her up with a sweet rendition of Jesus Loves Me, or The Old Rugged Cross. Picture holidays with everyone singing together around the piano (my mom playing, not me) as their voices blend perfectly to sing Christmas carols instead of their voices hollering at the TV shouting at the referees over a bad call in a football game. *happy sigh*

Sounds great, but where to I find that sweet lady with tons of free time and generous heart? If you know where to find her, give me a call and let me know her phone number, okay? Until then, I am happy to say, I recently discovered a possible least, a beginning for our family in learning how to sing together, and I am SO excited!
"It's not's just good training."

Teaching Kids to Sing by The Vocal Coach is a three DVD/CD set that does just what its title says it will teaches your kids to sing. Created by vocal coaches Chris and Carol Beatty, this two DVD set will teach your kids the basics of how to use their voice such as posture, breathing, tone, diction, and control. Basically, they are teaching you how to use your voice as the instrument God designed it to be. Amen to that!

Teaching Kids to Sing is a two DVD set of children's classes taped so your children to participate along with it. There is also one CD which contains all the tracks and vocal exercises from both DVDs (vocal and music only) so that you can practice anywhere you have a cd player (like the car on the way to AWANA, which is what my kids enjoyed). The classes are geared towards ages 5-13, though both Tex and I learned something ( a LOT) from the set.

"Vocal Coach product doesn't teach a particular style, rather we teach you to master the principles of vocal muscle memory, which cause critical body parts to produce excellent sound, amplification, and control with increased stamina to predictably deliver the results you want!
Before you know it, you'll be able to apply what you've learned to any style you want to sing. Just like a well-conditioned athlete often has the ability to play many different sports, a well-trained singer has the potential to sing many different styles."

How did my kids like Teaching Kids to Sing? 

That's easy...they LOVED it!! My sweet Ladybug walked around the house singing "I am an upright child of the King; I stand tall because it helps me sing. I am an upright child of the King; I can sing, I can sing, I can sing." It was so precious. Cowboy liked the breathing exercises best (you know, the kind where you go, "hee hee hee"). It doesn't take much to imagine why...LOL. Little Firefly started thinking she can really sing and be heard. Previously, her voice was so tiny that she got lost under the enthusiasm of the other two voices. With the help of the Vocal Coaches, she started projecting and it was very evident that she was enjoying herself as much as the rest of the crew.

I never heard anything other than complete enthusiasm and anticipation from the kids when I told them it was time to do their vocal exercises or watch (and participate in) one of the DVD classes. I did get more requests for having sing-along time, however, and Ladybug was even more interested in practicing her piano, as well as her songs. Now that's an unexpected bonus!! 

Actually, during the time of this review period, nine-year old Ladybug completely took over our Bible memory sessions in the morning, gaining confidence as a singer and as a teacher to the other three Amigos. She started leading them in practicing their weekly verses and song, even standing in front of them to use hand signals to direct them as they sang, copying the teachers from the dvd. It was positively adorable and inspiring to see...and the best benefit was that with her in charge, she was more enthusiastic about doing her morning work, and the kids never avoided joining in, seeing it as more of a game than school. Nice!

There's more to singing than just making noise. My daughter told me that. She also says that to be a good singer you must have good posture, you have to breathe from your abdomen, you need to use your sides and your back to help your voice make the best sounds, you need to protect your voice by not overusing it or yelling, and she tells me that your voice vibrates...isn't that cool? 

Obviously, she's learning something, and just the process of learning helps you to pay attention and be more aware of what it is you are doing. It also increases your comfort level when you decide to participate in that certain activity, and I can see their confidence in singing growing right before my eyes. I can't predict whether they will inherit my mediocre voice, or their dad's good one (people are always asking him to join the choir), but whichever one it is, I would like it to be a voice they can use effectively and confidently, to the glory of God.

I feel I have learned something from the classes, too, and that perhaps maybe my voice is not a lost cause. I can read music and follow a tune. I can stay on key and tell when someone (or myself) is off. I can learn to breathe better and control my tone and diction. I may never have a gift for singing or playing the way my parents do, but if I can learn enough to enjoy my voice, and to help my children learn to enjoy and share their little voices raised in praise, then that will be yet another success story for The Vocal Coach. You can read more testimonials and success stories from professional singers and normal folks just like me on The Vocal Coach website.

So if you are trying to decide what to do for music with your kids when it comes time to add one of the arts to your curriculum, consider this: why don't you try a year studying the hymns and hymn-makers, and use The Vocal Coach materials to help your children learn to use their voices better so they can have a life-long ability to praise the King of Kings with confidence and clarity of voice. It's a completely portable instrument, easy to learn and use, and it is something you will have with you forever. Sure, learning the violin is nifty, but if you are ever stuck in traffic and need something to do to entertain a busload of youth from your church, how practical is pulling out your violin and playing a few songs? Not to mention the fact that nobody else can join in (unless they happen to have packed a violin, or a flute, or a piano in their bag). Give voice lessons a try in the comfort of your own home, and perhaps, after a while, you will find yourself wanting to join the choir to develop that latent talent further, or just to have more of an opportunity to praise the Lord for all He has done for us.



Disclaimer: We received a copy of Teaching Kids to Sing from The Vocal Coach for the purposes of completing this review. All opinions reflect our own experiences with the product. No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Growing Up Wild About Missions

Encouraging Children to Impact the World for God's Glory

"Go and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Go and teach them to observe all I have commanded, and I will be with you until the end of the age."

Matthew 28:19-20  The Great Commission

One of our top ten goals as homeschooling parents is to instill in our children a heart for missions. Each year at Christmas we work with Operation Christmas Child as a family, filling up boxes for little ones in far off places who may not receive anything else all year. Tex will spend a few days at his grandparents' house with friends (his grandparents run the program in their large church) so they can help pack the big boxes of little boxes and load the large trucks. Daddy will take the Three Amigos on Sunday to Nanny and Poppy's church to help collect the last of the donations. Other years we've also contributed to Angel Tree, adopted individual families, or worked with other services, like the military, to fill community needs.

During the rest of the year we show missions support by providing funds for individuals on a monthly and/or one time basis and sent out family members as needed during times of disaster, like after hurricanes. We make donations of items and do our best to find opportunities to include the kids in missions projects. Bubba was blessed to take a five week missions trip during his high school years, and I have hopes that Tex will make at least one similar trip during the next few years. We encourage our children to choose Spanish as their foreign language as it seems to provide the most opportunities to use it on the missions field.

Beyond that, however, there isn't much more I can say. I see families like the Duggars (on TV) making yearly trips to foreign places to work with orphans and can't imagine being able to do that. My husband's job is so demanding, it will be years before retirement allows him the opportunity to take the older kids out of country to serve others. I hear of other families whose children decide to be missionaries and wonder what influences made the idea even a possibility...I know when I was growing up, not much entered my thoughts beyond horses or being a vet...and it took years after college before I realized I might have been a great librarian or social worker, jobs I never considered because I just didn't experience them (beyond checking out books, that is), let alone the missions field.

Some families have the privilege of knowing some missionaries personally. We've moved around so much because of our military lifestyle that we haven't developed the community ties that make it possible for us to be familiar enough with local folks like that we could invite into our home to have dinner with us and to talk with the kids. Honestly, while I don't personally imagine any of my children in a dangerous third world country taking chances every day with their lives for the call of Christ (nor do I imagine any of them joining the armed services and getting shot at, if you know what I mean), I do know that is a possibility. I would not want to be the one to stand in the way of their answering God's calling on their lives, and I do not want to be an impediment to their finding out what it is. But honestly, if it is foreign missions, how am I going to give them any idea of what missions is if my only experiences with it are limited to those on the home front?

Well, now that I've discovered Growing Up Wild, I think I've found a way to at least expose them to the idea and the reality of what some missionaries go through, in a way that is fun, interesting, and likely to encourage them to want to explore the potential of the calling on their own. Growing Up Wild is a collection of DVDs that takes you into the jungles of Indonesia and shows you the day to day exploits of the four Wild brothers. Beyond that, it lays out the basics of foreign missions, in the context of this one family's experiences, in a way that is understandable and honestly, lights a fire in their hearts to know more.

The first DVD is an excellent introduction to the brothers and their daily lives. The heart of the family is the home (after God and Mom, of course), and the initial segment shows the details of the design and construction of their round house in the jungles of Papua, New Guinea with the Wano people. The approximately fifteen minute segment (their are three segments per video), also takes you on a tour of the home, which is fascinating, and shows you how their house is similar to that of the Wano people, but also different, in the same way that it will prove to be surprisingly similar to yours, but also different.

I was amazed that they not only have running water and electricity (real toilets and a glass enclosed shower, even), but they have computers, a school room, and the coolest Lego Loft (my kids LOVED that). I told Ladybug, "Wow. I love it. I could live in that house. It's so simple, yet complete." She replied, "No you couldn't, Mom. They have tarantulas living in the rafters." True. That's a deal breaker for me for sure. The Wild boys shoot them with rubber bands and spear them when the population gets too big or they get too close. Otherwise, they are accepted since they do a good job keeping the insect population down. Ugh. Shiver.

At the end of each segment, which on this tape were all narrated by the mother (Dad narrates a few in DVD #4), ideas for integrating the information you were given during the piece are offered. This particular story opened with how their dad picked the home site because of a beautiful HUGE tree nearby he knew his wife would love to see every day, and it suggests that you find a tree near your house that is inspiring and draw it. The story also includes mention of one of the tribal men who loves to spin a yarn, so they suggest that you find a relative or neighbor who likes to tell stories and listen to and/or write down a few of them.

A third suggestion for this segment is that you look up how houses are made in your area and other areas and read them, and I can think of at least five books in our library, plus another video or two that cover that topic...unit study! Another fine suggestion is to draw a Venn diagram of how the Wilds' house is similar to and different from yours and from the Wano houses (the Wano people are communal and many generations share their homes with each other and with their animals...they also have no furniture!). The last one of the five suggestions available at the end of every segment is the one my kids want to do on the available day (since we watched the video again to refresh our memories of it) is to construct a model of a Wano style house using twigs and other materials. Now I realize why after our initial watching of the video they found a corner of the horse pasture with a few small trees where they started to construct kid-sized stick huts...this video! They've played in those regularly for a month. What about that is there to not like? Each DVD even comes with an additional CD which contains an activity guide that gives more guidance for each of the suggested activities. Excellent! Here is a sample of the activity guide for the first disk.

God and His influence and presence through everything is mentioned throughout every story (in some more than others) but His importance and guidance is clear. Scripture is used throughout the two videos we viewed and I found the quality of the writing to be excellent. I was impressed to learn that Mom and Dad did all of the work! Impressive and inspiring. They are definitely a talented family. The filming is spectacular. The scenery can't be beat. The colors are vivid and the beauty will take your breath away. Even the introductory music has a catchy beat.

The other two segments in the first DVD covered the way the family obtains electricity (solar panels) and water (gathered from an uphill clear water source using gravity...simple and simply ingenious at the same time) and how they go "out of country" to obtain supplies and to connect with other missionaries in their area. The house segment will inspire your budding architects and your homemakers (I really think I could be quite happy there, if not for the spiders...even the pythons did not bother me that much), power segment will inspire your budding engineers, and the one about getting supplies will encourage your wanna-be pilots.

I know this may sound simple of me, but while I have tried to be open to each of my kids being called to any career from architect to army doctor, teacher to technician, homemaker to horseman, I never considered any of those jobs in light of using them on the mission field. It's obvious to me how a doctor can help on the missions field, and a translator, but I never would have considered my tech savvy guy working with radios to keep in touch with missionaries all over a foreign country, or my budding park ranger to perhaps range away far from his home. But if that is what God has in mind, it could happen...and these videos may be one key that will unlock the possibility in their minds.

The other DVD we viewed, the fourth one, is just as good. While during our initial viewing I didn't appreciate the first segment about the creatures the Wilds' encounter every day since I saw it first and on its own (I didn't feel it was "deep" enough since I was comparing its "mission" to stuff like Ken Ham and other creation science materials...but its intent is to glorify God and simply introduce the variety the children encounter daily within the scope of what you already know about them), seeing it after all I've learned about the family from that first DVD makes me really appreciative of the content...and the kids loved seeing the bugs, the snakes, and how similar their cats are to ours. Their cat likes to play with and eat bugs and mice. We have one that just the other day stalked a spider cricket (creepy bugs...I found one leg left the next day), and another that loves toads and moles. Living in the country, our most hated vermin is mice (which surprisingly was their most disliked vermin, not the spiders), and I've been stalking those that are trying to come in and make a home for the winter somewhere warm all week with Molly's help. It was interesting to see the similarities, alongside the differences.

My favorite thing about the videos, though, was how clearly they laid out their calling to the missions field, and showed that there are many ways to serve. I appreciated hearing their story, and their uncle's story (he works in a village within a few hours of theirs by plane), and how they began their journey of outreach to the people of Indonesia. It was fascinating to hear how they had to move in not knowing the language at all, and that it took them three years to master it. Now they run a school for all the people and also the church for the 69 (I think) converts in the village. Their aunt translates the Bible and other texts to help native peoples learn, and the Wilds' had to develop a written language. Daunting. Impressive. Made possible only by God.

I believe these videos would be valuable to a variety of folks. They would be useful for a Sunday School class (running a family or youth Sunday School class? This would be a fun conversation starter!), or for Wednesday church, or a home Bible study. I'd love to have friends over to view a segment and do a day long (or multiple day) unit study with these. Church libraries should have these videos for people to check out. I will be purchasing the other three to keep in my Lifetime of Learning Library. They are also just plain fun to watch. As we watched them together again yesterday, my kids told me over and over again, "Oh Mom, watch this. It is my favorite part." And my formerly squeamish Ladybug, who groaned and covered her eyes the first time we watched the videos and the pet green python was on the screen (which is actually yellow because it is young) said this last time as we watched them together, "The snakes used to bother me, but now it's no big deal." Way to go, girl!

One funny comment was, "Mom, two of the boys have hair like Cowboy and Boo's, but two of them have curly long hair like a girl." Cultural difference there. *smile* We don't see too many long-haired guys around here. Too many military folks. Another comment was, "It's hot there, Mom. That's why those boys don't ever wear their shirts. Don't let it bother you." (We have a rule around here to always wear shirts unless mowing the back 14 in hot weather...not wearing shirts is not allowed in the front yard for boys, and for girls, obviously, ever!). "They try not to show too much of the natives (notice the wording was 'too much of,' not 'too many of'...they show plenty of native people), Mom, but they don't wear many clothes." The Wano people are scantily clad, but the way it is filmed, and, I think partially because they are so dark-skinned, you just don't focus on or really notice that fact too much.

No bad language. Creepy snakes and bugs. God-affirming messages and scriptures...Mr. Wild shares the Gospel story and there is footage of one of the Wano people giving his testimony in one of the segments. Scantily clad people. Gorgeous scenery. Body piercings...demonstrated on camera...eeyeuw. Mrs. Wild let her two oldest boys get their noses piereced (a native custom) with a STICK. She talked about how she wrestled with it, then decided how God's word allows for different customs as long as there is nothing unsacred behind the reasons for the custom. The boys teared up, but were brave (no anesthesia...ack!). At the end of the segment, one of the suggested activities was to find a stick, sharpen it, and pierce your nose...NOT! No, actually, they jokingly suggested it, then said, "No, just NOT try this at home!" The kids howled over that one.

Good morals. Happy family. Personally challenging. Informative. Interesting. Funny at times. Humbling at others. You will be challenged to pray and to figure out what God wants you and your family to personally do to share the Gospel with other people...does He want you to pray, to give, or to go? He calls us all to do something...are you doing enough? After seeing these videos, you may not think you are doing enough, so if you don't want to be challenged, you might want to skip them. Otherwise, I give them a hearty two thumbs up. I think that watching these will help your kids and mine grow up wild about foreign missions...and that's an eternally good thing. 

If you would like to learn more about the Growing Up Wild DVDs, you can check out their website.

See some sample videos of Growing Up Wild and learn about the people who made it.

See a sample of the activity guides that come with each DVD on a separate cd. What an excellent resource to tap into!

Meet their family on their blog and check out their Jungle, games, etc.!

Volume One is available for $18.99 and covers building and touring their house, how they buy supplies and the necessary aerial support, and obtaining electricity and water. (I definitely recommend purchasing the first video first, though, even if the topics on other DVDs intrigue you more. It is definitely worth it to get the background of the family's set up first.)

Volume Two is available for $18.99 and covers adventures indoors on a rainy day (with memories of a tropical surfing excursion), exciting outdoor adventures on a hiking and camping trip, plus flora and fauna outside their home.

Volume Three is available for $18.99 and covers the blessings of the good earth and how a seed can feed a village, the history of the jungle and the terrain surrounding the Wilds' home, and how illness in the jungle and compassion for the sick can have eternal consequences.

Volume Four is available for $18.99 and covers God's amazing creation in Indonesia, tribal/cultural differences and customs, and the calling to the missions field. This is the one with the native testimony. Very touching and convicting.

Volume Five  is available for $18.99 and covers discovering the language, the feast, and misconception of missions. The page linked to shows the correct image, but has write ups of the wrong segments. Sounds good, though!

Here's a freebie that goes right along with these lovely videos. Teaching With God's Heart for the World is a free two volume curriculum that teaches world geography with an emphasis on missions. I have a printed copy of this excellent curriculum and it is wonderful, even if you only delve into it deeply enough to find Indonesia and do that chapter to go with the Growing Up Wild DVDs you purchase...

If you'd like to read what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew have to say about this product, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received two videos from the Growing Up Wild collections (#1 and #4) for the purposes of completing this review. All opinions stated here are my own or those of my family. No other compensation was received.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Is Our House Tacky and Crowded, or Much-Loved? Votes Are In.

Someone (who shall not be named) told me that my house was tacky and overly crowded. Hmph.

Pardon me if I take slight umbrage at that claim. I find our house to be warm, homey, and comfortable...always interesting, it has plenty of cozy seating, and is filled with love and good things. But someone felt it was their duty to tell me that they think my space has too much "junk" in it (mostly meaning books). Pardon me for NOT being appreciative.

Well, I went directly to the decorating experts who count (the kids) and asked them their opinions. 

Here goes:

Mom asks Ladybug: Do you think our house is tacky and crowded?

Ladybug: What does tacky mean?

Mom: Ugly and cluttered. Too much stuff.

Ladybug: No. I like our house a lot. It is comfortable.

Mom: Do you think our library is too crowded? Are there too many books?

Ladybug: No. I like our library.

Mom: Should we have put a couch and another TV in here instead?

Ladybug: No. We've got one TV and that's enough. If we had another TV, everybody would be stuck to the TVs.

Ladybug: Anyway, books are like movies, but in your head. You can visit different places in your imagination. They can even be 3-D in your head. More books means more friends. Your books can be your friends. If you don't have sisters or brothers, you can look in books and find some. If you don't have a good friend, someone in a book can be like a friend. You can share books with your real friends!

Ladybug: Everyone in our family loves books. There are books all over the house. I like that. My favorite books are the horse books and the books about families.

Firefly walks in: Can I look at books? I love books. This is a good book (points to a book). I like cookbooks and princess books and ALL of the books in this whole library. Here's a princess book. Can I borrow it from our library?

Cowboy walks in: I like books! I especially like I Spy books best. Bug books, reptile books, dinosaur books, fish books, and animal books are good, too.

Mom: Do you think our house is over-crowded and ugly?

Cowboy: No! It's just right. We have birds' nests and shells and bugs and leaves and lots of interesting stuff in here. It is just right for me. This book looks really interesting. Hey, can I read this book? (runs off with a book)

Mom: What about you, Boo?? Do you like books?

Boo:  I wike pop-up books and dinosaur books!

Well, there you have it. Our house is not tacky or overly crowded. Very LOVED maybe, but you can never have too much love, so that's all right.

As for tacky and over-crowded, well, I guess it's all in how you look at things and I think things look pretty good from here...and so, apparently, do the other folks who live here. If it is a bit stuffed full of things, I guess it's all good things that must be important to somebody, so they can stay.

As for (you know who you are) glad you don't have to live here and feel free to have an HGTV inspired home. I'd rather have an LOVE inspired home.

By the way, I love you and your not-tacky house anyway. 


Teach With Grace and Truth


I love books. You know I do. In fact, I love books so much that I am starting a homeschool resource library in the back room of my house to justify my book collecting (and because it helps make sense of my urge to collect good books other people sadly discard)! So you know that when an opportunity to try out a book from Christian book distributor, Grace & Truth Books, arose, I was one of the first in line requesting to be able to try out one of their products. There were many worthy choices, from Seven Favorite 19th-Century Children's Stories  to Of Knights and Fair Maidens by Jeff and Danielle Myers, but the title that caught my interest was With the Children on Sundays: Through the Eye-Gate and Ear-Gate into the City of Child's-Soul. 


This 330 page book has 52 chapters, one for each Sunday of the year. Each story is a self-contained lesson on some point of Biblcal doctrine, yet is fascinating enough that you will not have to worry about your child losing interest. The stories are designed to intrigue your children, yet are meant to explain clearly and simply enough that even your youngest children might understand at least part of the concepts contained therein.
From their site:

"A giant volume, which ranks as one of history's greatest Family Worship books ever composed.  A limited number of copies are available of this book, which has been out of print many decades and is currently not being printed by anyone.  Filled with many of the most delightful family readings you'll find anywhere, from an author with great skill in presenting Bible truths in a  form which grips the eye, holds the mind's attention, and wins the heart of a child for Christ.  Many call this the finest book for family worship they have ever used."

Sounds amazing, doesn't it??

We have been using another title offered by Grace & Truth Books as our devotional during the week on and off  for a while now. The book Long Story Short is a great way to learn about the Old Testament and see how its major events and stories all point to Christ and God's Plan of Salvation. It is designed to be used for ten minutes a day, five days a week. 

With the Children on Sundays by Sylvanus Stall is an excellent option for reading together on either Saturday or Sunday, as while the stories take a little bit longer to get through and discuss, they are completely different from your usual Bible readers...they are stories about people and events outside the pages of the Bible that also point to Christ's plan and His love for us.

Our favorite story so far has been one that eloquently explained to children how God can "find" us, even after death. I know that my kids have asked the question, "But what if there's a fire or an explosion? What about all those people in the Towers at 9-11? How will God find those people?" Kids want to know these things, and while I understand what I know to be true, I am not always an expert at explaining things. This book uses the story of the scientist, Michael Faraday to explain this concept. It tells how if you dropped pure silver into acid, which would break down and completely dissolve the silver, he could pour in the correct chemicals that would cause the silver to gather together in a ball, allowing the acid to be poured off and your pure silver to be regained and collected. That is a picture of how no matter what, God can find your spirit, and bring you to Him in Heaven. WOW! I loved it...and so did my kids.

The follow-up questions helped to make the concepts more clear and allow you to turn the lessons in the book into a full-blown Bible lesson, or you can just work the questions into conversation and keep it casual. Many of the lessons have actual activities worked into the stories that you can do to illustrate the concepts even more clearly, but you always have the option of simply reading the description and picturing it in your mind, if you want to keep your lessons less formal and more like just reading together. You may find that it is your children who want to run around and find the materials, like paper clips, a magnet, a piece of paper, and then do the mentioned demonstration...just because they are interested. How exciting is that?!

Each of the 52 stories contained within this book is exceptional in its craftsmanship and message. The stories are heartfelt and very moral. Some are more adventurous than others, but all are interesting. While instructive, the stories are not what I would consider to be overbearingly preachy or off-putting. You could use them in many settings from your home, to your Sunday School, to a Co-op, or a Bible study group.

Because the stories were written in the 1800's, you can expect the vocabulary to be more challenging than the average book today. Personally, I love that aspect of the book, though some parents of very young children might find it somewhat intimidating. Being an English teacher by pre-homeschooling Mom trade, I am generally the resident dictionary, but keeping a Webster's 1828 dictionary (or other version you might own) on hand for quick look-ups solves the issue either way (though you may find some terminology that is out of me quaint, not irritating). 

I have very fond memories of a summer visit to the kids' grandparents' house (when we lived in Florida and it took about 20 hours to go either way) when we listened to Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. My boys (ages 7 and 13 at the time, Ladybug was under 1) LOVED the story (all the cousins are boys, though the main character is a girl), even though they were yelling, "Stop the tape! What does afflicted mean? What does usurper mean? What does countenance mean?" throughout the tale's reading. This did not reduce their enjoyment of the book any, but it multiplied mine, as I noticed them using their new vocabulary words frequently in the ensuing weeks.

I am thrilled that I now get to add this wholesome and useful new title to our Lifetime of Learning Library, for others to see and appreciate, and then want to purchase their own copy. The truth is, though, I will probably be keeping it in our personal library for a least until we have finished all 52 of the stories! In the meantime, I am recommending that if you are on the market for wholesome titles, ones you can trust to be quality reading for yourself and your family, then head over to Grace & Truth Books and check out what they have to offer. With a name like Grace and Truth Books (three of my favorite words!), how can they go wrong?


If you'd like to check out what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew have to say about this and other titles from Grace & Truth Books, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog and read some more reviews. Other reviewers will have noted the titles they reviewed under their thumbnail photos.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of With the Children on Sundays for the purposes of completing this review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's in the Bag


"Where fun and education fit in the same bag."

I first discovered Activity Bags when Preschool Activities in a Bag was released. At the time I had two little ones, ages 4 and 2 and another on the way, plus two older children. My oldest was a pretty high maintenance student, and my middle child needed one on one time to fine tune his reading and math skills. I was looking for ideas on how to occupy my younger children while I worked with the other ones. It wasn't like we didn't have toys for the little ones to play with, but it seemed that whenever we were working on school assignments, the little ones wanted to "do school," too.

That's when I came across the Preschool Activity Bags book. I was so excited when it arrived because the concept of preparing activities ahead of time that only came out at "school time" (thus making them special and attention keeping) made so much sense. My mom is a reading specialist by trade and had suggested having things like file folder games (which I tried, but the ones I had from here were just too hard for them without supervision at that point...her students were older) and learning centers (which took a lot of time to prepare, took up space, couldn't be left out indefinitely, and were often awkward to store). Her ideas were ecellent ones and I have used them in different circumstances since then, but they just didn't work for me at the time with the ages the little kids were. I needed something else.

Activity Bags was a revolutionary product for me and struck me as simply brilliant because it was so simple. How easy is it to put pre-planned activities into bags with labels and pull out one or two at a time to reinforce needed skills or to simply entertain the kids? Easy-peasy! Actually, the idea was pretty much what my mom had already suggested (file folder games, just a variation of it, and centers...contained in a Ziplock bag), but adapted from the classroom into a form perfect for homeschoolers.

Space-saving, efficient, easy to store, easy to assemble, and fun, Activity Bags delivers just what you are looking for to engage your students with hands-on learning activities. Many of the activities require only items you probably keep in stock around your house, especially if you are a homeschooler. They are simple to assemble on your own, if you just plan on using the book for your own family, or you can arrange an Activity Bag swap party and assign the supplies for one activity to each participant, set up the items in a Round Robin sort of way, and everybody leaves the party with as many different bags as there are people. Now that deserves the Easy Button. Easy!

I've got to tell you that hostessing an Activity Bags party really makes sense because when make-your-own activities require particular items to complete their assembly, you can't generally just buy one of whatever it is you need (like metal spinners or Velcro dots). Multiply each of those supplies by twenty-five activities and it adds up to a lot.

BUT if you are responsible only for the supplies for one or two of the twenty-five activities, then suddenly your boxes of spinners and game pieces don't seem too expensive after all. Someone else brings the Velcro and laminated flowers, another participant brings the dice, poker chips, and photocopied game board, and you walk away with three fun activities for your kids to play...and it only takes about five to ten minutes to assemble each bag (instead of an hour to gather the materials and do each one individually and on your own). What a nifty concept...I love it!

The next great thing about Activity Bags is that they are so easy to store. You have lots of storage options. You can keep them in a filing cabinet, in a crate or laundry basket, use banker's boxes or Rubbermaid containers, clip them to a clothesline stretched across your basement classroom, or place them around your classroom in learning centers. Oh, and they are fantastic for workboxes, too. They fit right into most drawers or upright file holders very easily. Pull a few activity bags out each week to add some variety to your kids' school days and they will thank you for it with more enthusiasm and excitement about learning. You will thank yourself for doing it because suddenly teaching your varying ages (or even your one or two students) is much easier AND you get this sense of having done more than just making sure the kids got their workbook pages completed and nature journals filled out for the week. Nice.

We received the full three-part series of Science Experiments in a Bag and I was as impressed with them as I had been with the Preschool Activities years ago. Those preschoolers are older now (though there are other preschoolers using the original activity bags and they are still holding together!) and they LOVE the idea of doing experiments. As a busy mom, experiments just seem like a lot of work and mess to me, especially with the little ones all wanting to help at the same time. Having to gather the elements of the experiment, print up a notebooking page, get all the kids safety goggled up, then doing the experiment, writing it up, and picking it up...whew! That takes the whole afternoon.

Of course, you might say I am just stressing myself out by writing up the experiments, but I just think that the kids understanding the scientific method and being able to look back in their notebooks at the pictures of what they've done is a valuable exercise. So if I am not going to cut out the write up, how can I make doing science experiments easier and more appealing to me so I will choose to do them more often?

The answer is Activity Bags. I love them. I can take an afternoon on a weekend when Hubby can tote all the kids to the dump, his favorite home improvement store, and to Sonic for ice cream cones, and in just a few hours I can have ten experiments put together in bags and stowed away for Fun Fridays (see links below to my old Fun Friday posts and get in on the fun yourself!). Then when the kids say, "Mom, can we do an experiment today?" I don't have to think whether we have the baking soda or the coloring or the paper tube or the funnel...I know all the parts and instructions for TEN (there are twenty-five per book) experiments are waiting in their bags, along with the notebooking pages I printed ahead of time from my favorite source, and I can just say, "Yes, let's do one right now." Let the fun begin! The smiles make the up front preparation worth it. I highly recommend all of the science e-books. I don't see how you can fail to love them, too. Your kids sure will.

The Science Experiments in a Bag e-books are a welcome addition to any science curriculum. Covering topics from biology to nature to chemistry and the human body, the can be used alongside your own unit study or to supplement your textbook. They are also great if you don't have a curriculum for science, but want your kids exposed to vital, basic concepts in a fun and engaging way (especially in the earlier years, or by using lab notebooks to further cement the concepts in their minds).

Easy enough for older students to complete with minimal supervision and simple enough that even the most science-challenged mom will not be intimidated, Science Experiments in a Bag go together in a jiffy, and get you a lot of "bang" for your homeschool budget dollar at $15 dollars each, $27 for two, or $39 for all three. Since there are 25 experiments in each book, one book can last you a year if you only do one a week. Since we also do nature studies as a vital part of our "eclectic Charlotte Mason" curriculum, once a week is plenty for us, and the kids LOVE IT!!


Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 1


Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 2


Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 3

Activity Bags doesn't just have these three excellent e-books about science, they have Preschool Activity Bags 1 and 2, Reading Games Activity Bags, Travel Activity Bags, and Math Games Activity Bags, too. A little birdie told me they might be coming out with a Craft Kits in a Bag series of books kids are going to adore those!

These fine collections of activities are ideal for:

  • families with kids of all ages (target ages K-8, unless otherwise specified)
  • parents who need to keep kids occupied while they work with other kids
  • co-op groups
  • homeschool groups
  • MOPS groups
  • hands-on learners
  • independent learners
  • beginning homeschoolers
  • Charlotte Mason homeschoolers
  • Unschoolers and Relaxed homeschoolers
  • useful with any curriculum
  • science enthusiasts (easy labs for young ones)
  • those who are not so enthused by science, but want their kids to be...
  • reluctant/beginning readers
  • math enrichment
  • public or private school teachers of all sorts
  • Special Education teachers and Reading Specialists
  • Fun Fridays (see my blog posts about Fun Friday at our house Variety is the Spice of Life, Friday Fun School, Twenty Fun Friday Ideas, and Fun and Games Friday.)
  • getting Dad involved in the homeschooling experience...perhaps you could have him do an experiment every Saturday.
  • aftercare workers or grandparents to do with the kids.
  • and much, much more. Anyone and everyone...this means YOU!

Check out this great sampler of the Activity Bags books.
Check out info on how to have an Activity Bags swap.
Check out pictures of Activity Bags made all over the world!
You can order some Activity Bags books TODAY!


You can read other excellent reviews about the Science Experiments in a Bag Activity Bags and other products from Activity Bags at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Good Old Days at Sugar Creek


Think back to the good old days...Saturday nights meant The Love Boat and Fantasy Island..."da plane, da plane!" Ooops. Actually, I meant the really old good old days. Not my good old days (really, I can't believe I actually watched those shows). Not my mom's good old days. But my grandmother's good old days...Those days back before television took over. The days when families gathered together around the radio to listen to programs with exciting plots and riveting dialogue that left plenty for your imagination to soar freely with. Back then (according to my grandmother) there was one radio kept in a central and important location of the home, and when it was on (which wasn't all the time), everyone listened T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R.

Isn't that an incredible thought in this day and age? Doing things together. These days it seems everybody is so "plugged in" that when you peek inside the *average* American family's home, you will find dad in one room with his big screen television tuned to whatever sport is currently in season; Mom is perhaps in the kitchen with her smaller set tuned to Food Network hoping for some inspiration from Paula Dean (add some more butter, Mom. That makes everything taste better!). Junior is in his room hooked up to his gaming station, his little brother is in the same room, but disconnected because he's connected to some game on the Internet, and sister is texting and Facebooking friends with her iPhone as fast as her fingers can type. All in the same house, but nobody has any idea what anyone else is up to, even if they are in the same room. 


Around here we try to limit that sort of scenario. No, we haven't ditched our television completely. Yet. We have one, hiding in a converted armoire, and we use it for videos and Netflix when mom decides the day is too rainy and cold for outdoor play, or someone is sick, or it's Friday and time for movie and a pizza. Yes, we do have Internet (but not cable), but it is monitored strictly and nobody is allowed to hide in their rooms and be online forever like a hermit (though Tex would like to do that occasionally). I have a phone with 3G (yeah, I know that's not as good as 4G), and my kids use it to call my mom or take pictures with it more than I do. We aren't as "unplugged" as I'd like. I'd prefer to get to the point of a video only once a week (for our movie night), or not at all, and to put greater limits on computer time, but we aren't there yet.

Click here to listen to another old time favorite of ours...Cinnamon Bear

As we transition towards more homey, connected, old-fashioned entertainments, I've added more books on tape and radio shows to our weekly activities, in addition to more reading aloud. Audio stories are great to listen to while I sew with the girls, color with the little ones, or make dinner (instances when I obviously cannot read out loud at the same time). Bubba grew up listening to a favorite Christian radio program, and still has fond memories of all the hours spent in his room with his "friends" Whit and Eugene. Tex likes listening to books on tape while in the car. My little ones love those old "read with me" books that ding when it is time to turn the page.

Click here to listen to The Swamp Robbers, a Sugar Creek Gang story for FREE!

But there's always room for more fun and more favorites, or at least that's our motto. I run a homeschool resource library and I am always on the lookout for quality programs to recommend to friends and family. I've had an incomplete set of the Sugar Creek Gang books (a Christian adventure series for children originally published by Moody Press in the 1940s) on my library shelves for few years, but lacking a child of the age to read them (the young ones are too young to read them independently yet, and the older ones are into other things), they haven't seen as much action as I'd have liked.

Little did I know that all 36 stories are available on cd for your listening pleasure from Beloved Books, a Christian publisher who strives to supply wholesome, family-friendly listening experiences for your family. That's over 100 hours of listening fun, folks (if you bought them all), dramatically read by Paul Ramseyer with old timey charm and sincerity. That's a lot of family time!

The Sugar Creek Gang series is unabashedly Christian. It is about six young boys (the narrator is 9) who are friends and have a "gang" (using the old definition of the word). Each of the boys (except for the narrator) has a nickname that suits his personality. Dragonfly has huge eyes that seem to see everything and Circus likes to perform acrobatic feats. Poetry likes guessed it...recite poetry. He knows 101 poems and has the perfect one for every situation. Throughout the stories, you learn about each of the boys and hear true-to-life stories of their antics and adventures, intermixed with uncensored Christian testimony on an easy-to-understand level. 

We had the opportunity to listen to volume one of the series. One of the story lines includes the conversion of a boy who was formerly their rival, all due to their persistent good witnessing and genuine behavior. While the good choices they make (and sometimes foolish ones) will inspire your children, they will not make your kids feel that their brand of "goodness" is unattainable. The stories are fun, rather than preachy, yet you clearly hear the Gospel message in every tale. Bill, the narrator, carries his small New Testament in his pocket everywhere he goes and prays for his friends, both saved and unsaved. He respects his parents, and is contrite when he makes a mistake. He is grateful for what he has and aware that some kids are not as fortunate as he is, including some kids he knows. 

Because the world is not a perfect place and these stories are true-to-life, we encounter some unpleasant events and people in the stories. One of the boys has a father who drinks and his alcoholism is discussed. Another boy who is not in the gang (and is not saved) has a father with the same issue and his story is thoroughly covered in the first set of cds. I liked how realistic the story lines were, but I also liked how everything was handled with one eye towards heaven (prayer) and the other towards the scriptures (the Bible). 

The boys recite Bible verses and the importance of learning (even poetry!) is emphasized in every story. I think that is great. I wish I did everything as well as the folks in these stories...they are a good example for your kids of how friends and families should be...but in a very real-to-life way, without any fantasy or impossible scenarios. The boys do normal things like pick berries, swim in the swimming hole, fish, go to school, help with chores, have fights (one big one), search for treasure, tromp through the woods, care for one another, go to church, and pray. The stories remind me of Norman Rockwell prints, which is why I included a lot of Rockwell prints in this review. Don't you just want to jump in and join them at the old swimmin'-fishin' hole? I do. I think that listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories is sure to have the same effect on your entire family.

The stories made my kids want to do all of those things (well, let's hope all of them except for the fighting part) and more. I really like that my children are being motivated to BE REAL KIDS by these stories instead of being motivated to live in a fantasy world. Mind you, I have no problem with many fantasy novels. I just read a great one over the weekend. It was a fun vacation from reality during Hurricane Sandy, BUT for my day to day doings, I think I prefer that my kids hear and practice being REAL people instead of fantasy cartoonish characters because, after all, they will grow up to be men and women, not Bugs Bunny or even Dora the Explorer. 

We have been enjoying listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories in the car en-route to church and AWANA (it's a half hour drive each way). That gives us time for one episode, and gives the kids something to think about that is worthwhile when they need to sit and keep still. I appreciated the change of pace from our usual listening fare, and there wasn't one person in our car, ages 3-44 who wasn't on the edge of their (car) seat listening for what was going to happen next.

The only reason I am not rushing out to buy every one of the six available volumes is the price, a hefty $54.95 each (shipping is included). You can save $50 dollars by purchasing all six sets at once, plus get an autobiographical set about the author of the books, Paul Hutchens, for $279, but that does make it a pretty high ticket item. I am used to spending less for cd sets of six, and I am not sure yet how I feel about the price.

I can tell you that the stories are definitely worth your while. You can purchase just the first one on cd, an entertaining two-parter called The Swamp Robber, for $4.95 (with free shipping) to see how you feel about them, or you can listen to it with your kids for free online.

The Sugar Creek Gang cd sets would make an excellent addition to your Christmas Wish List for far away relatives who need a simple item they can order online for the whole family. If not that, perhaps you might decide that instead of large gifts for the kids this year, you will want to invest in a year's worth of family time by purchasing the complete set for everyone's benefit (and giving each child a small, personal gift).

What could be a better gift for your kids than 100 hours of happy memories spent the car, the living room, or on your back deck...or wherever else you like to be that makes you happy. Just time, spent together, listening and laughing. That sounds like a pretty nice gift to me.


If you would like to read more reviews about this product, please visit The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

You can also listen to the storyteller, Paul Ramseyer, introduce the Sugar Creek Gang characters and reminisce about the gang here.

See what other find family-friendly Christian products Beloved Books has to offer at their website.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of set one of the Sugar Creek Gang series for the purposes of reviewing this product. No other compensation was received. All opinions are based on our own experiences with this product.

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