Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sometimes, Christmas Is Hard

Today, someone posted this song by Mark Schultz on Facebook:

And, even though my grandmothers have been gone for a long time, it brought up such a wave of loneliness and grief that it quite took my breath away. I know the holiday season is hard for a lot of people, and I just wanted to say - I'm praying for you. I'm praying for you to find joy, and to feel peace, even as you grieve your loss.

If I lived near my family, I'd probably try to get my sister and mom together to talk about my grandmas. Unfortunately, I don't live near them, so I cope as best I can, mostly with Diet Coke and chocolate. I do try to remind myself that when someone we love dies, they leave a hole in our hearts the size of the love they took with them. My grandmas left big holes. I try to remember the things I loved about them, things that made them the beautiful women they were, rather than focusing on how sad I feel. 

So, that is my encouragement for you. I know how hard the holidays can be. I do. If you're missing someone, try to remember happy things about them. Talk with someone else who's missing them too, if you can. Maybe write things down as they come to you. I know my children love to hear about my grandmas, and I love to tell them stories about them. 

Merry, merry Christmas to you. Know that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is with you, and that I'm praying for you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Parenting Unchained: You Shall Know The Truth

This post contains affiliate links.

I have been tremendously blessed with some "imaginary friends" in my parenting journey, many of whom have turned into real-life friends. These amazing people showed me how to change from a punitive parenting style to a grace-based style of parenting that focused more on training the hearts of my children and applying natural consequences. By the time my third child came along, I felt pretty confident that I could parent a baby, toddler, and preschooler. I was even doing pretty well with my elementary-aged girls. Now my girls have become teenagers, and I find parenting a 7-year-old boy to be exceptionally challenging some days. Suddenly, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing - again - and am back to really needing some help!

I was intrigued by what I heard about a new book by Dr. James D. Dempsey, titled Parenting Unchained: Overcoming the Ten Deceptions that Shackle Christian Parents. I was delighted to be chosen as part of the review team.

Dr. Dempsey is a pastor, and has a passion for training parents. In his book, he sets out ten lies parents often believe about parenting:
  • It's all about your kids; your character doesn't matter.
  • You're capable; you can do this.
  • God only cares about rules.
  • You can be a parent without investing much time.
  • Teaching the right information is enough.
  • Why and how you discipline doesn't matter - just make them obey.
  • You don't need to talk about your faith.
  • Children should choose their life course (you don't need to help them).
  • It's all about consistency (you don't need to adapt).
  • Life should be easy.
Do any of those sound familiar? At one time or another, I've tried them all. Remember the old saying, "Do as I say, not as I do?" That seems to cover many of these, and as I know from being a child and hearing that, it really doesn't fly. When I first started homeschooling my children, a wiser mom than I said, "People think homeschooling is all about the children, but it's really about growing the mama." She was so right. Parenting is a tough gig for anyone, but when your children are with you all day, every day, your sin is constantly visible to them, front and center. I have more opportunities to lose my temper, to contradict myself, to fail to keep my word... yeah. It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

As Dr. Dempsey discusses each of the ten deceptions, he points out what the truth is, by using examples from Scripture. There are also study questions and action steps that go along with each one. For example, he suggests keeping a notebook on the spiritual truths we learn through parenting. He also asks us to look at our experience with our own parents, in order to be able to recognize how our past affects our present with our own children. I have found that to be a very helpful exercise.

What Dr. Dempsey does in this book is show that parents can learn a lot about parenting from the Bible, and not just from the verses that specifically mention parents and children. There is much to be learned in how God parented the children of Israel, and in how Jesus taught and prepared His disciples.

I have struggled in many areas of life with the need to be intentional. I remember taking a class on financial management, and learned that I not only needed to be intentional about finances, but about my marriage and about parenting, too. I was, frankly, overwhelmed. I didn't even know where to start! I had been muddling through, day by day, thinking if I tried my best, it would be enough. I have learned, though, that in order to be able to do my best, I have to be intentional about what I'm doing, and that means constantly learning and adapting as my children grow and change.

This book is an easy read, and yet challenges me to remember how critical my job as a parent is. It's an excellent resource to keep what's important at the forefront of my thinking all the time. It's helping me be aware, to pay attention, to keep my focus on the Lord and therefore be listening to His guidance as I raise my children. I hope you'll take a look at it! It's a worthy read.

THROUGH FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2014, Parenting Unchained is available for Kindle for $0.99! The paperback version is available from Amazon for $12.38, also. I like the print version, myself, for underlining and taking notes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

You Will Love This Game!

Our family loves to play games. We have such a good time together! It's a great way to connect, and we're always looking for a new game to try. We were recently given the opportunity to review the game Snake Oil from Out of the Box Games, through the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

This game, intended for ages 10 and up, is simple to play. You need at least three players: one to be the Customer, and the others to come up with products to sell. The Customer chooses a customer card, which tells you to whom you are selling. Each player gets six word cards, and when it's your turn to sell, you combine two word cards into your product, and then market it to the Customer. The Customer chooses the product they feel will best suit them, and the winning salesperson collects the Customer Card. The player with the most customer cards at the end of the game wins. Each game takes 20-30 minutes, depending on how many people are playing; when I played with my two girls, I think our playing times were shorter than that.

We laughed so hard when we played this game! When I chose my word cards, I thought I knew how I would combine them–until one of my girls chose a Customer card. When I had to sell something to specific person, everything I thought I would do went out the window. Since you have no control over the cards you get, this can make for some VERY interesting salesmanship. I was the first Customer, and my card was Executioner. One of my girls tried to sell me Diamond Spit, and the other tried to sell me a Sun Pony. Diamond Spit was very sharp and could take care of an execution for me; the Sun Pony shot laser beams from its eyes. See what I mean? (I chose Diamond Spit, in case you wondered.)

My younger daughter was the second Customer, and she was Santa! I tried to sell her Snow Silence, so no one would hear her coming, and my older daughter tried to sell her Power Soap, for a refreshing burst of energy before heading out for a long night of delivering gifts and climbing up and down chimneys.

Not only is Snake Oil fun, it inspires some creative learning. You have to be able to think quickly and be flexible enough to work with whatever comes up. Also, even if you have the best card combination for a "product" that will suit your "customer," if you can't market it well, you will lose. Communication skills are important, too, because even if you think the product you came up with is a bit ridiculous, you still have to make your "customer" want to buy it.

My girls and I had a blast playing this game, and we agreed that it would have been even more fun with more players. If you're looking for a great game to add to your family collection for Christmas, or to give as a gift, check out Snake Oil (19.99)! If you have younger children, consider Snake Oil - Party Potion for ages 8 and up (14.99). In addition to these great party games, Out of the Box Games has some classroom games that look fantastic (most only need 2 players; one game needs 3 to start) and helpful information for educators.

Connect with Out of the Box Games on FacebookTwitter and YouTube!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A New Book for Christmas!

I love Christmas, and I love Christmas books. I am always looking for new-to-us stories to read to my children. Even my teenagers look forward to the box of Christmas books coming out every December!

This year, I received the opportunity through the Schoolhouse Review Crew to review If He Had Not Come from David Nicholson. The story was originally written by Nan F. Weeks, published in an anthology in 1938.

David Nicholson is a retired schoolteacher and short term missionary. He has shared this story with his own family for years. He's now republished it in a beautiful hardcover book, for ages 6 and up, with lovely illustrations by Charles Jaskiewicz. The font is clear and big - wonderful for, ah, older eyes that don't do well with tiny letters anymore.

The story is about a little boy named Bobby, who, while reading the Bible with his father, is struck by the words Jesus said: "If I had not come" from John 15:22. When he goes to sleep, he dreams that Jesus had not come to earth. It should be Christmas day, but all the businesses are open. There is no hospital or homeless shelter to help the sick man he comes across while searching for his parents. Where there was once a homeless shelter, he finds men gambling, and when he asks for help, they're mean to him. There is no orphanage where he remembers there being one. His church doesn't exist. Everywhere, he sees the words, "If I had not come." Eventually he wakes up, and realized he had been dreaming, and he's SO glad Christ really did come.

Mr. Nicholson has included some discussion questions for families or Sunday School teachers. There is also a "Going Deeper" section with some great, though-provoking questions, such as "What would it mean for us spiritually if Jesus had not come to earth?" All of the Going Deeper questions have Scripture references to aid in your discussion. Mr. Nicholson also presents the Gospel in the back of the book, and there is page with instructions for drawing a Christmas tree with information on the symbolism involved, like "The star on the top of the tree represents the star that led the wise men to Jesus."

My kids enjoyed hearing this story. I enjoyed it, too. I know it's a book we will enjoy together for a long time, and because my girls liked the story, they will be willing to read it to my son. He does love spending time with his big sisters, and they love activities, like reading, that don't involve "ninja moves" or "sword practice."

It's a different story line than most other Christmas books. It's rather tense, with Bobby finding only annoyance and anger from the people he encounters. I suppose that is the point; the world without Jesus is not a nice place. Of course, there is a happy ending, when Bobby wakes up and realizes that it's all been a dream.

If He Had Not Come is available as a printed hardcover for $18.95, and as an ebook for $3.99.

Connect with David Nicholson on Facebook!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

REVIEW: When London Burned Audiobook

I love audio books. I discovered them years ago for myself, as something to do while working in the kitchen. I can't skip any words - no skimming when someone else does the reading. When I started spending a lot of time in the car with my children, audio books made a nice change from listening to the Wiggles or Elmo. We have listened to lots of great stories together. It's also been a nice option on long road trips. I was recently given the opportunity through the Schoolhouse Crew to review When London Burned by G.A. Henty as an audiobook, with the accompanying study guide, from Jim Hodges Productions.

G.A. Henty was a military correspondent and prolific British author who lived in the mid to late 1800's. He wrote 122 books of historical fiction about both British and American historical events. His storytelling began with telling stories to his four children after dinner. His stories are historically accurate, and exemplify noble character. His books are recommended for ages 10 and up.

When London Burned was set in London in the 1600's, around the time of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. We are studying the Renaissance and Reformation in history this year, so it was a great book for us. The story is about Cyril Shenstone, son of Sir Aubrey Shenstone, a knight who fought with King Charles II to help him regain his throne from Oliver Cromwell. Sir Aubrey dies when Cyril is only 15, leaving him to find his way in the world on his own with no money and no estate, Sir Aubrey having sold it to help finance the King's campaign. The story tells of Cyril's adventures in London, and he is portrayed as a young man of great faith and character. When the Plague hits London, for example, rather than hiding in his house, he goes out to see how he can be helpful to those who are afflicted. Although I occasionally thought Cyril was a bit too good to be true, one part of the book affected me particularly. Cyril's pastor preached about showing compassion to those afflicted with the plague, which was in sharp contrast to most other preachers of that time, who said the plague had come down on them in judgement for sin. Cyril took those words to heart, and rather than hiding in his house to try to avoid illness, he went out to see how he could be of helpful. He ended up working as an assistant to a doctor, who appreciated Cyril's level head and willingness to work.

Each Jim Hodges audio book comes as an MP3 CD, which means it will not play in a standard CD player. You could rip the CD onto your computer, though, and put the audio book onto an MP3 device. The books are broken out into chapters on the CD, which makes it easy to find your place if you schedule your listening time.

When London Burned is a long book - the total listening time is 13 hours and 21 minutes. I have to be honest: my kids and I kept wondering when London was actually going to burn, and we were glad when we finally got to the point of the story. I had not read anything by Henty before, and I have heard people say he wrote excellent historical fiction, and other people have said his books were a bit dry. I probably fall in the "bit dry" camp. I'm not sure I would have made it through this book without the audio. Mr. Hodges does a good job differentiating voices between characters, and pronounces things clearly. His narrating style is a little dry, perhaps, but overall it was a good listening experience.

When London Burned Study Guide
Because we listened to the book in the car, we weren't able to utilize the study guide much. The best thing about tit, for me, was the vocabulary list provided for each chapter. That was great, because there are a lot of nautical terms and I didn't know very many of them! If I were going to present this book to my children, we would definitely use the study guide to go over vocabulary. There are some excellent questions in there, which ask more than just recalling details from the book. We were encouraged to learn more about Puritanism and Oliver Cromwell, find out where the original site of St. Alphage's Church was, and compare the French baton to the English singlestick, just to name a few of the topics. The study guide encourages further research and fleshes out this period in history.

I enjoyed listening to this audio book. It was a good first experience with G.A. Henty's writing. If we

When London Burned is available from Jim Hodges Productions for $24.99 for the MP3 CD, or as a digitla download for $18.00. The study guide is also available as a PDF download for $12.00.

Connect with Jim Hodges Productions on Facebook!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Friday, October 24, 2014

You NEED This Pencil Sharpener - Really.

It's the little things that can make days go so much better, isn't it? As homeschoolers, we use (and lose) a LOT of pencils. I have been on a hunt for a great pencil sharpener for a long time. I've tried electric ones (nope) and small hand-held ones (those nice silver ones are great, but messy), and I even have one of those old metal ones that we all used to have in school when we were growing up. It's loud, but it's worked the best so far. Unfortunately, in this house, I have yet to find a good place to mount it. We've lived here more than 4 years.

I recently contacted Troy Decoff of  Classroom Friendly Supplies, and he kindly sent me one of his amazing pencil sharpeners, in the lovely shade of Firehouse Red, to review. I had heard about them from another blogging friend of mine, and wanted to see for myself how they measured up.

As soon as my sharpener arrived in the mail, I hunted down all the pencils in the house that needed sharpening and set to work. I could not believe the point that came out on these pencils! Not only does it sharpen perfectly every time, but the it stops when the pencil is done so you don't grind your pencil down to a stub. I don't normally do that, actually, but I do have a young someone in my house who thinks sharpening pencils down to nothing is great fun. This sharpener doesn't allow that to happen. Also, it's quiet. That is a huge benefit when you have a child who can't tolerate any noise when they are trying to read. I may or may not have one that fits that description...

These pencil sharpeners come with a clamp to allow mounting it to a table or counter. You can also purchase a mounting plate if you want it to stay in a permanent location. Sometimes we do schoolwork in our school room, and sometimes we work at the table, depending on the subject, so it's nice to be able to bring the pencil sharpener along with us.

One great thing about this sharpener is that the blades are replaceable. You can order one set of replacement blades for $14.99, or a set of two for $22.99. It's easy to get the sharpener apart to replace them, too. My 7 year old got it apart on the first day we had it, and told me he "broke" it. That was not the case, thankfully, and it did show me that replacing the blades would be simple should the time come when it's necessary.

The one issue I have with this sharpener is that it only sharpens standard-sized pencils. My little guy uses big pencils sometimes, and we have some fat colored pencils, too, and those won't fit. The good news? Classroom Friendly Supplies now has a Large Hole Sharpener! It's the same price as the other sharpeners, and works on standard size pencils, too. It doesn't mount to a surface, but that is just fine with me. It only comes in black at this point, which I also don't mind.

Kinda takes your breath away, doesn't it?
This pencil sharpener is amazing. AMAZING, I tell you. You need one - you might need several. The good news is that one sharpener is $24.99, and you may purchase three for $53.97 ($17.99 each,a 30% discount). If you're ordering for a school (they do accept purchase orders), you may purchase an entire case of 36 sharpeners for just $13.99 each. If you have a homeschool group, or know enough people who want them, you could order together and get a nice discount. Be sure to check out their website, and connect with them on Facebook, where they share giveaways.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

REVIEW: Middlebury Interactive Languages

For this school year, I'm doing something we haven't done before: exploring options for online classes. My oldest is in high school now, and there are some areas in which I could use some extra support. I haven't been consistent in teaching foreign language. I couldn't decide what to teach; I took a fair bit of French in college, but I wondered if Spanish would be more useful; I wanted to teach Latin but wasn't sure how I wanted go about doing that; etc. We were recently given the opportunity to review a six month subscription to Middlebury Interactive Languages, and I was excited to try it out. I had my oldest daughter, who is in 9th grade, enroll in their high school French Courses

They offer courses in Spanish, French, German and Chinese, for students in grades K-12. Note that only Spanish is offered for the K-2 grades at this time.

We were a little confused when we first logged in, but once we figured out what was going on, the program was very easy to use. Upon logging in, we saw this screen:

Honestly, I wondered what on earth we were supposed to do, but we did finally notice the little arrow at the bottom right of the screen in the "Up Next" section. 

When you put in your start date for the course, a calendar is automatically set up for you with the lessons all scheduled. Middle school and high school lessons are scheduled 5 days per week, for a total of 90 lessons per semester. 

There is also a Table of Contents, where you can see all the lessons listed. When you click on a lesson folder, it opens up so you can see each part of the lesson. In the semester overview, you are able to see what will be covered in your lessons.

The course begins with an explanation of Student Resources, which walks you through what you need to know about using the course. My daughter and I appreciated the information they provided on typing in accents on the Mac, particularly. That was very helpful. Another useful option is the ability to print each unit's vocabulary list. When you click "Print," you get a lovely PDF file with all the words and the translations listed for you. VoilĂ ! (My recommendation is to print the lists and put them in a notebook, minimally; ideally the student would copy them into a notebook. Physically writing things out makes a BIG difference in retention, in my experience.)

Each unit has 5 lessons, and each lesson incorporates varied activities that help the student connect with the language they are learning. Each day's lesson is a little different, so it's never boring. Students learn vocabulary and grammar, and also a bit about the cultures in the countries where French is spoken. Activities include short videos, listening, reading, writing (typing), and interactive games. The typing activities include filling in blanks with vocabulary words, but also short journal entries. I was impressed with how quickly students are assigned to write a few sentences in French, using what they've learned in the program. Each day's lesson takes up to about a half hour, depending on how quickly the student moves through the activities.

My daughter found the Speaking Labs to be particularly helpful, because you listen to a native speaker pronounce what you're learning and then you record yourself repeating the word or phrase. You can then compare your pronunciation to the native speaker's and see how well you've done. It can be tricky to produce sounds correctly in a foreign language, and this feature shows students where they need the most practice.

From a teacher's perspective, this is an incredibly easy program to use. A high school student logs in independently and works independently.  The program automatically takes them to where they left off when they log in again, so there is no confusion about that. You can easily use this program with a computer or tablet, which makes it portable. There is a grade book which shows you the scores they've received on the work they've completed. 

My only concern about the program, and this applies to most online courses we've tried, is the lack of physical writing assignments. Typing is fine, but physically writing things out helps make an important connection in a student's brain. I have Emma write things in a notebook. I realize there is no way for an online course to grade that kind of thing, but I still think it's important.

I am impressed with this program and think it's an excellent online language course option for homeschoolers. You can purchase courses for $119 per semester. If you'd like to learn more about Middlebury Interactive Languages, click here for some videos about their programs (you will be asked to enter your email address. 

Connect with Middlebury Interactive Languages:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!