Saturday, August 31, 2013


I was the first one in bed several nights ago.  I thought the boys were getting ready for bed, but instead Luke did this to Nicholas.  I'd call it a tie in to history, but we did Ancients last year; this year is American history.  If you look closely at the face, you can tell Nicholas is smiling. Also, you know you've got a lot of boys when you have enough Ace bandages to mummify a 7 year old*.  

*No Nicholases were harmed in the making of this photo

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Because You Are Strong

Doorposts recently sent their new Bible study book Because You Are Strong:  A Study of Godly Strength for Young Men for review.  This softcover book is intended for young men, ages 10-12 and up.  In addition to the softcover version, is also available in PDF format. 

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Because You Are Strong is a Bible study that aims to teach young men what true, Godly, strength is and how to use that strength for God's glory.  Also incorporated in the study are Bible study skills that will serve any student of God's word throughout their life.  Your student will learn to use a concordance, study Greek & Hebrew words, do a character study, study a specific topic in the Bible, use the marginal notes in the Bible, study a verse/passage/chapter of the Bible, and learn how to use many of the free Bible study tools available online.

Because You Are Strong is broken down into 10 studies, plus a review at the end.  Each study is further broken down into 7 days (the final review is only 4 days long).  Each study uses a different study method:
  1. Strength for the Race:  Meditating on Hebrews 11-12
  2. Strength with No Limits:  A Topical Study on the Omnipotence of God
  3. Strength and Wisdom:  A Topical Study in Proverbs
  4. Strength and Temptation:  A Character Study of Samson
  5. Strength to be Valiant:  A Word Study on "Valor"
  6. Strength in Our Weakness:  A Verse Study on 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  7. Strength in the Battle:  A Chapter Study of 1 Samuel 17
  8. Strength Serving Others:  A Study of Jesus' Actions in the Gospel of Mark
  9. Strength and Gray Heads:  A Verse Study of Proverbs 20:29
  10. Strength in the Faith:  A Book Study of 1 John
The questions are not light questions.  Your student will have to look things up, mark up the Bible, paraphrase passages, memorize Scripture, and take notes and draw charts.  They'll have to think about things:  How are young men strong?, Why did the people in Hebrews 11-12 do the things they did?, How is God calling you to be more like Him?, and more.  Critical thinking is definitely required for this study.

This isn't an easy study, but at the end your child will have learned a lot about Biblical strength and how to study the Bible.  There is a lot of writing and studying, but this is well worth it.  I think it's best suited for ages 12/13 and up--my younger boys would definitely be overwhelmed if I handed it to them.  If it's the first study of this type that your student has done, I would suggest working on it together (it would make a fabulous father/son study).  While Doorposts suggests the lessons take anywhere from 5-20 minutes, I found they took 20 or 30 minutes to complete.     

If Because You Are Strong piques your interest, check out a sample here.  Doorposts doesn't leave girls out; while the title of this book and the cover art are geared to males, there are alternate questions for Young Ladies in the back of the book for some of the questions (or there is a study for girls:  Beauty in the Heart).  Priced at $14 for the softcover version (or $10 for the PDF), this is a great study on strength, no matter the gender of your student(s).

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For more reviews of Doorpost Bible Studies, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hard Boiled Eggs

Trying to keep 5 boys filled up isn't always easy.  I like to keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge, but that leads to questions about which eggs are raw and which are boiled.

I get asked a lot of questions, and I'm always looking to eliminate some of them.

I've come up with an easy solution.  After they're boiled, I add a bit of vinegar and food coloring to a bowl of cold water and I place the boiled eggs in the bowl of colored water to cool off.  It's easy to tell which eggs are boiled when they're dyed!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Review: Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom is an online program that teaches reading and writing through a 3rd grade level. This program costs $19.99 per month, or $199.99 a year. Additional students can be signed up at $9.99 per month, or $99.99 a year.  For the purpose of this review, I was given a full subscription for up to 3 children.  I used it with Nicholas, who is 7 years old and entering 2nd grade.

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Reading Kingdom is designed for use by children ages 4-10, as well as struggling learners.  It begins by teaching preschool skills, such as identifying letters and left to right tracking.  Each level works on keyboarding skills, word recognition, reading comprehension and punctuation.  By the end of the 5 levels, your child will be familiar with 950 total new words.

Reading Kingdom teaches reading through a system developed by Dr. Marion Blank.  It is neither a phonics nor a traditional whole language approach.  Instead, it teaches reading through a set of 6 skills (you can read more about her philosphy here):
  • Sequencing
  • Motor Skills
  • Sounds
  • Meaning
  • Grammar
  • Comprehension

Reading Kingdom is customized for your child.  To begin, the child takes an assessment to determine where to start in the program.  After this initial assessment, the program will pay attention to what your child knows and further customize the lessons.  Because of this customization, parents are reminded to not give any help to their child.

The screens are bright and colorful, without being busy or overwhelming.

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To complete the exercises, the child can either use a physical keyboard, or use the mouse and an on-screen keyboard. 

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Unfortunately, Nicholas didn't really enjoy this program.  He didn't have any trouble with the reading or spelling, yet he was placed at a lower level.  The first time he took the Skills Survey, he was placed in Level 1.  Knowing his reading level, I was surprised and asked the Skills Survey to be reset.  This time I typed for him, having him say the letters for all the words, along with ending punctuation.  As soon as I didn't hit the period key in time, the survey stopped and he was placed into Level 2 (again, below his reading level).  I decided to go ahead and have him just start lessons on this level.  He found the program frustrating because there is no way to correct mistakes.  Once you hit a key you are locked into that answer--no backspacing is allowed.  I understand that being able to use a keyboard is important in this day and age, but I don't really see how it should be this closely tied to learning to read.  I believe a lot of his frustration could have been solved by allowing him to correct typing mistakes.

I do really like the Reader Report:

This one page makes it easy to tell exactly where your child is in the program and how they are doing.  

If you are intrigued by the program and would like to try it out, there is a free 30 day trial available.  You can also check out more reviews of Reading Kingdom at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Do It Myself

The end of 2010 was the beginning of a very difficult time for me.  We left our church home of nearly 14 years.  It was the church where my boys were born and dedicated, the place where most of the significant relationships outside of my family were born.  It was my homeschooling support system, and I loved them dearly.  Leaving severed many of these relationships and I was heartbroken.

In addition, when we left that church I was in the middle of getting diagnosed with a chronic liver condition, autoimmune hepatitis.  It was a scary time; I slept for many hours a day and I was exhausted with horrible brain fog and in pain for much of the rest.  I felt like my body was shutting down.  Because I can't seem to do anything simply, it took nearly 8 months for me to receive the final diagnosis because my labs weren't textbook.  All we knew was that I was a stage away from cirrhosis of the liver, my liver was inflamed, and as mentioned before, I was exhausted and in pain.

After the diagnosis, I was put on medication to help control the inflammation, which has helped my liver begin to heal itself.  However, I still suffer from fatigue and daily pain, though the fatigue is better when my pain is managed.  I'm on a few different medications to help with the pain, yet the pain, inability to think clearly, and fatigue are still there in the background.

During this time, I would give lip service to the Lord:  "He's in control", "He is good", and "He is faithful" were mantras I'd repeat to myself and tell others.  While I believed these things in my head, they were not transferring to my heart and in my heart I had many questions I couldn't yet voice.

I didn't understand why.  Why would God take away my church family and support system?  Why would God take away my health?  Once I received a diagnosis, I wondered why He would give me a condition that would, most likely, be with me for the rest of my life.  Why would He put these physical barriers in my way when I was just trying to serve him by serving my family and homeschool our boys?  I was barely keeping my head above water and there were days weeks I felt like I was drowning.

I'd had trials before, but they had an end.  The chronic nature of my health, and the (what appears to be) permanent severing of relationships had thrown me for a loop.

Instead of turning to God, I stopped seeking him.  Instead of reading His word, I would do something else--something more important that I could check off my good wife & mother to do list.  I would talk to Him throughout the day, however I was ashamed of my questions and lack of trust in Him, so they weren't honest conversations.  While I fully believe that God can heal me, I also know that's typically not his pattern for things like this.

I thought I could will myself through.  After all, legend has it that my first sentence was "I do it myself."  If I just tried harder, I could take care of my family and homeschool the boys and look like I had it all together.  Only this just left me short tempered and frustrated, and the more I failed the less interested I became in truly seeking Him.  Where I once craved Him, instead I was just confused.

I knew I was supposed to count it all joy, but really..this?  This pain was to be included?  Whaaaaat?!

Yes.  Yes it is.

It turns out, it's not really all about me.  It's not about how many things I check off my to do list.  It's not about how well run my house and homeschool are.  It's about Him.  It's about how I can't do it myself.  It's about how, instead of waking up in the morning and trying to muscle through my day, I need to turn to Him and ask for His strength.  This pain isn't a punishment; it's a tool to draw me to Him.  In my weakness, His glory can shine.  Of course, I would welcome physical healing and I am promised physical healing (though it might not be until the next age).  I am also promised that at that time there will be no more tears.

This is how I can count it all joy.

Suddenly, I feel like I've got a new spring in my step.  He never changed.  He never left me.  He simply wants me to know him and depend on Him in a way that I wasn't doing pre-2010.  This is joy.  God is good.  He is faithful.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful is an American history and geography course for students in grades 5 through 8.  It was written by Charlene Notgrass of the Notgrass Company.  We received the America the Beautiful Curriculum Package  for review, and this consists of two hardcover textbooks (America the Beautiful Part 1 and America the Beautiful Part 2), We the People, Timeline of America the Beautiful, Maps of America the Beautiful, and an Answer Key.  We also received America the Beautiful Lesson Review and America the Beautiful Student Workbook. In addition, there is a literature package available for purchase.

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America the Beautiful is a chronological study of American history. It begins with a unit on Native Americans, and continues through the election of President Barack Obama. America the Beautiful Part 1 covers America from 1000 through the last 1800s, while America the Beautiful Part 2 covers from the late 1800s through present day. There are 75 lessons in the first book and 75 lessons in the second book (15 units with 5 lessons each), and each book is designed to be completed in a semester. The books are loaded with pictures and photographs, and the text is written directly to the student. 

Each lesson is only a few pages long, so it does not take a lot of time to read the daily lessons. There are five different lesson types:  “Our American Story”, “God’s Wonders”, “An American Landmark”, “An American Biography”, and “Daily Life”.  The “Our American Story” lessons teach about major events, “God’s Wonders” lessons describe a remarkable place in America, “An American Landmark” lessons teach about significant places in America, “An American Biography” lessons tell about a famous person, and “Daily Life” lessons describe the day-to-day life of people who lived during the time period being studied. Each unit typically contains one of each lesson type.

Each lesson ends with a list of activities, including writing assignments, vocabulary assignments, family activities, “Thinking Biblically” assignments, and assignments from the timeline book, map book, student workbook, or lesson review workbook. Mrs. Notgrass expects you to pick and choose from the list of activities.  In addition, a
fter many lessons in the America the Beautiful textbooks, the student is asked to read a something out of the book We the People. This book contains the text of various letters, documents, songs, speeches, articles, and other original source documents that are important to our nation’s history.

Maps of America the Beautiful contains various maps of the country that coordinate with many of the daily lessons. Students are asked to look at the maps and label or color during the lessons. Timeline of America the Beautiful will allow students to fill in events important to America’s history. There are various dates preprinted in the book for the student to reference.  The America the Beautiful Student Workbook is filled with various puzzles, drawing activities, word searches, and other activities that reinforce what was studied. There is one activity for each lesson. The America the Beautiful Lesson Review contains lesson review questions and questions from the books in the literature package. It also contains quizzes for every unit. The Answer Key includes answers for the Timeline, Student Workbook, Lesson Review, and the vocabulary assignments from the main textbook.

I absolutely love this curriculum and used it with all my boys.  I read the lessons from the main text and the assigned readings from We the People.  Sign of the Beaver is used alongside Units 4 & 5, and the storyline dovetails perfectly with these units on Colonial Life.  I used the Lesson Review book with my older 3 boys (9th, 8th, 6th), and the Student Workbook with my younger 2 boys (4th, 2nd).  These books are not reproducible, so you'll need a copy for each student.  Using both these books with the same student would be overkill; I'd recommend the Lesson Review book for those in middle school, while the Student Workbook is great for those in late Elementary.  We worked on the Timeline and Maps together.  

This American history curriculum is fabulous and I look forward to finishing it with my younger 3 boys this year (I loved America the Beautiful so much that I purchased their high school American history program, Exploring America, for my older two boys). America the Beautiful is in-depth without being overwhelming, and I love that the layout and ease of use for me as the teacher (it's pretty much an open-and-go curriculum). There is a great mix of activities to keep the attention of various types of learners. At a price of $99.95 for the package, $11.95 for the Student Workbook, and $9.95 for the Lesson Review, the price is reasonable and the materials are high quality. I would definitely recommend you take a look at America the Beautiful if you’re looking to give your children a solid education in American history.

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For more reviews of America the Beautiful, along with Notgrass' Draw to Learn program , visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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