And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13 KJV

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Baseball Boy's Dream Party

 So there was this boy, who loves baseball, that was having a birthday. He was so excited about his new house that he asked for a party to show it off.
His mom went to the local Dollar Tree where she found all sorts of fun baseball goodies like bubbles and balls.

There were even big bags of sunflower seeds and little cups to sit around. 

Since the theme was baseball, there were hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos. The popcorn was popped and put into white paper sacks with Kidecal stickers on them. 
Plenty of drinks were available because the kids were playing hard. (Not baseball. Our yard isn't that big!)

We even found HUGE bags of Cracker Jacks! How awesome are these?

 We used simple plastic tableclothes and a few reusable signs as decorations.

The baseball theme carried over to the cupcakes and carrot cake.

A great time was had by all! The baseball theme was very easy to accomplish. He was one happy little boy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Short Stories from the Circle C Ranch

Susan K. Marlow was a homeschooling mom for twenty years. She has written a series of books for kids based on a character named Andi, and I recently received Tales from the Circle C Ranch to review. The books in the Circle C Adventures series follow Andi as she grows up. Tales from the Circle C Ranch is a collection of short stories that fit between some of the other stories. We also received Andrea Carter's Tales from the Circle C Ranch Lapbook.

I have to admit I wondered if these short stories would be enjoyable for us since we haven't read any of the other Circle C books. I'm glad to say that they were. The short stories are set on the Carter family ranch (Circle C) in the 1880s. The large family seems to have many adventures. Andrea Carter (Andi) is growing up on the large ranch with 3 older brothers and 1 older sister. She enjoys wearing overalls and riding her horse Taffy. The 11 stories cover many themes. Although the first story ended sadly, the other 10 contain so much excitement and humor.

Apple read the book first and she said,

                     "I like it because it had different stories. It felt very realistic because all of those stories could happen. I like that it was so real. I enjoyed that the book focused on a big family. It is great that their last name is Carter too! The historic prices are very interesting and helped me to figure out how money was back then. The historic facts about photography and calling cards was neat. I hope to read more books from this series soon."

I read the book when Apple finished it. I also appreciated some of the historical information in the book. Sneaky way to add some learning in there! The stories were very clean and wholesome which makes me interested in the other books for Apple as well. The main character Andi seems to find herself in trouble, usually on accident, quite often. I'm certain Apple was easily able to relate to her in that aspect. Finding books with a real life feel without cursing and romance can be difficult for the older elementary/ tween crowd. This book (and I feel confident the others in the series) meets those criteria.

We also received Andrea Carter's Tales from the Circle C Ranch Lapbook. This 39 page lapbook was an easy way to add extra fun and education into the reading of the book. There were activities for writing, coloring, cutting, pasting, answering questions, and more. Apple really went to work on this lapbook as soon as she finished reading all of the stories. The ones she commented on the most were the extra photography and calling card information pages and activities. I think the lapbook gave her more insight into the time period and the stories of the book. It felt like a great way to continue the educational aspect of reading the stories. I felt like it was a perfect summer activity. Since we are in summer mode, I let Apple work on the lapbook at her own pace.

The Circle C Adventures books are recommended for ages 9-14. Susan K. Marlow also wrote the Circle C Beginnings books for the younger crowd and a set called the Circle C Milestones books for the older girls. These books are fun and exciting and, as I mentioned before, very clean and wholesome. If you think your girl would like period fiction, I would highly recommend the Andi books. If you are studying California history, then this book will certainly add some fun reading into your studies. Theis book is perfect for pleasure reading but make a great addition to a homeschool schedule as well. The lapbook is an affordable addition to add more learning activities. A special preview of some of the stories is available on the Circle C Adventures webpage.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about the book:

Dynamic Literacy Review


Connect with Susan K. Marlow on Facebook and Twitter.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Digital Streaming for Homeschool Families

Streaming videos is certainly here to stay, and I had the chance to review a new digital media website. SmartKidz Media has realized the need for a dedicated service for homeschoolers to utilize these types of resources. SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers offers educational videos, e-books, music, and more!

This is an affordable subscription website that runs well on platforms with an internet browser. Our subscription is for a full year! During our testing period, we used it on our home computer. The site is very user friendly. The main landing page (after log in) is a bright, colorful list of educational videos. Most of the videos currently available are informative animal shows. My kids love science and were very excited to have access to a whole new library of animal videos. It also went right along with our spring zoology study. The videos vary in length but many that we selected were around 25 minutes. The videos we watched were specific to things like animal migration and habitats.

There are also videos about food and culture available. Both kids enjoyed these videos as well. Apple has a keen interest in cooking so she spent more time watching these shows. I think they are a great way to introduce kids to cuisine that may not be available to try locally. Again the videos were very informative and not just entertaining.

In the main area there are also shows on exercise and newer history videos available. I know Speedy will really have an interest in these war videos. I am excited that we have access to some kid friendly exercise videos to work out some energy on days that are too hot or cold for playing outside.

The videos alone are a great addition to our homeschool but SmartKidz offers even more. There is a section on artists. Those videos focus on specific artists and play shots of their work with a musical overlay. What a great way to expose kids to the arts from the comfort of your own home. We live in an area that severely lacks in museums so I'm especially grateful for these videos. There are also many songs available to stream on the site. Just last year we started playing some classical music during our homeschool time. SmartKidz includes many classical selections and cultural music and even some blues and jazz! Now that's a great way to spice up study time.

Other features on the website are an e-book collection, study guides, special needs learning, and even kids karaoke! New things are being added so quickly that we haven't had a chance to try many of the features. There are also many cover teasers about the items that are coming soon. The kids scroll down the list each time they get on the site to see what has been added. The site is so well organized. Videos and music show up on the main page and then there are colorful tabs at the top of the screen for navigating to other resources.

SmartKidz is such a versatile resource. There are so many ways you could incorporate it into your homeschool. For the last few weeks, I've just give the kids certain times each week that they could pick a video to watch. They love the extra screen time, and I love that they are learning from it. Many people now use digital media as a primary curriculum. We don't fall into that category but I can certainly see the value in a resource like this. My goal is to have them watch a video for "fun" at least once a week and then I'd like to use specific videos, e-books, or study guides as additional resources for lessons we are working on during our regular school time. I know we will utilize streaming music in the background during individual work time. While it is intended as an educational resource, there is a lot of valuable media for toddlers and littles that might keep them entertained while the big kids do school. I wish I had this resource when my kids were younger just to give them safe shows to watch. Of course I recommend you preview any videos for questionable content. I do believe some of them contain evolutionary material although we have learned to pretty much block that out. Whether you use it for homeschool or for pleasure, SmartKidz really is a library of resources right at home!

See what others think about SmartKidz Media:

SmartKidz Media Review

Connect with SmartKidz on Facebook and Twitter.

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to Plan Using Pinterest

I see Pinterest as more of a tool than a social media site. I told you before how I use Pinterest for homeschool. There are 3 other ways I use Pinterest to plan that might be useful to you.

1. Vacation Bible School- I coordinate the VBS for our church. I've found a great way to plan and keep track of ideas is on Pinterest. Each year I create a board and add on my top VBS volunteers as contributors. We can use the board well in advance to pin ideas on experiments, decorations, games, and even snack ideas! I search Pinterest for the type of Bible school we are using for the year. I also pin items from retailers where I may buy supplies. Oriental Trading Co is one of my favorite resources. I also like to put pins on the board from other sites so that all the websites I need are located in one spot. It's great to have my leaders pinning as well so I can see the ideas they have without a face to face meeting. When we do have meetings in person, I can pull our board up and have all the information on hand that we will need. Our VBS this year was G-Force and here is the board we created. 

2. House hunting- Thankfully we are now out of this market but it took us 2 years to find the home we wanted. I made a "secret" board to keep track of homes that I was interested in seeing. Over the 2 years time, I had lots of pins! They were so useful when we were talking with realtors and really just getting a feel for the area. If you were selling a home, this could also be a useful tool for finding comparable homes and upgrades you might want to make on the house. The secret boards are a great tool for any planning you are doing that isn't public knowledge. You can pin directly from real estate websites like Zillow.

3. Party planning- I think this was one of the very first boards I ever created. Pinterest is an exceptional place for finding ideas related to pretty much any birthday party theme. You can search by specific characters or movies. I used Pinterest heavily when planning an ice cream sundae bar for a party earlier this year. I keep all the party ideas on one board because most of the ideas can be adjusted for different themes. We have a baseball themed birthday party in the works right now and I've found so many ideas just searching Pinterest. Again, I've also pinned many items and ideas directly from other websites so that all the information is neatly collected in one place. 

I love to organize and plan. Don't forget about Pinterest as a free and easy to use tool. Think of it as a digital list of ideas. There's no better way to keep websites neatly catalogued. What's your favorite way to use Pinterest?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Great Book for Tweens and Teens

It isn't an easy transition from toddler sized Bible story books to stories and devotionals for kids to appropriate Biblical material for middle schoolers. If they have studied the Bible since a very young age, then regular books of Bible stories can lose their attention. There are many good devotionals on the market for the tween crowd, but finding books for them to help them understand how to live out Christianity in their lives can be difficult. It can be difficult for adults too! I have had my kids read books about missionaries the last couple of years. We've recently read some aloud as a family too. When I got the opportunity to review Bonhoeffer: Student Edition: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, I wondered if it would be above Apple's level. It wasn't!

She reads so many books, and we don't always spend a lot of time discussing them. When she was reading this book by Eric Metaxas, she was coming to me often sharing facts and asking questions. I love that! She told me several things that I didn't know. Once she was finished reading it, I read it too. This is a great book y'all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up in Germany with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. It was a large family who learned about Christianity from their mother but rarely attended church. From this beginning, Dietrich went on to study theology and then found a faith that many around him didn't understand. His story is fascinating.

This is a great book for tweens and teens. It contains so much information, not only on Bonhoeffer's life but on Hitler and history too. It includes questions at the end of each chapter that would make it perfect for a study group. There is so much wisdom included in this book. The quotes from Bonhoeffer are great. His ideas seem so timely to today. He noted that in America the students had a "lack of seriousness" about God and the world. Bonhoeffer also stepped on toes in a church in Berlin by telling them it wasn't enough to just show up to church. Sounds relevant to today!

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Action and Adventure

Normally the books I review are fairly low-key. I like action and adventure, but it can be difficult to find those books that don't involve unsavory themes like fornication and vampires. I received Centralia by Mike Dellosso as a review item for Tyndale Blog Network. I knew from the description that this wouldn't be the typical Christian novel.

Peter Ryan wakes up to a normal day. The sun is shining and he hears his wife and daughter downstairs. That's the last moment of "normal" for Peter. His life goes on an insane roller coaster of twists and turns. I was dizzy by the end of the book! If you enjoyed Terminator 2 or if you love a good action/ adventure story then you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It has a little conspiracy and a little government involvement for you too. It is a Christian book so there is a faith journey involved as well.

Honestly I felt like I was watching a movie as I read this book. It is descriptive. The main character goes through a well developed journey. It kept me guessing until the end. After a little research it seems this is a typical book for Mike Dellosso. I'm interested to read some of his other works now. This would be a great book to give the guy in your life. I find there aren't as many good Christian reads for men as there are for women. This book does contain some violence but I didn't find it to be too graphic.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Budget Battle

So when you buy a new house, things are bound to happen. First, the washer went on the fritz. Thankfully that was fixed without any expense to us. Then, the computer crashed. Died. Needs a funeral. That was an expense for us. An expensive expense. Of course, I can't work without a computer so it was a necessary expensive expense. However, we won't let it get us down! We won't turn from our budget. If anything, this shows us the importance of a budget and a healthy savings account.

In the midst of battling the budget, it is more important than ever to remember all the people we are blessed by. People mean so much more than things! Washers and computers come and go but parents and family and amazing friends are worth more than any jewels. We are so grateful for all the people who have helped us move, bought us housewarming gifts, made us food, worked on our dead computer, replaced our washer, and even put up a new mailbox for us. Every little gesture has been noticed and appreciated. God is so good to us. Thank you amazing friends and family!

I hope that you take time to notice the people around you that are caring for you too. So many people pray for us and we may never even realize it. People take time from their busy schedules to check in with us or even better to spend time with us. My heart is saddened by those who feel truly alone. Many people now seem to put more stock in their internet people or in animal rescue than they do in the humans right next to them. Don't turn a blind eye to those around you. God puts all those people near us and gives us so many opportunities to bless others. I am making it a personal goal to do more of that!

How do you make real life relationships a priority? Try sending a real letter to someone or making a lunch date. Invite friends over to play with your kids. Have a big cookout. Take time to really engage with a co-worker or church acquaintance.

A Year of Math

I have heard of CTC Math more times than I can count, but I never really researched it until I had the opportunity to review it for the Crew. We have been trying the 12 Month Family Plan for homeschoolers. I have to say this is an impressive online math program. All your kids (up to 10) are included on the plan, and they all have access to every level from Kindergarten to Trigonometry. That is huge considering the low price. One year of this math program costs about what most curriculums cost for 1 year for just one child.

 Pro #1- One low price for the whole family.

So of course I set Apple and Speedy up on this program. I know I have drilled 5th and 2nd grade math into their little minds, but I just can't help myself. I had them start on those grades. They weren't thrilled, but they know they are working their way up to starting their new grade levels so they humored me.

 Pro #2- Access to 12 levels of math instruction.

All of this program is online. Each family gets a parent sign in and then the kids each get their own login and password. It's super simple to open and get started. Once I set the accounts up, the kids pretty much took over. When they open their grade, they see a list of choices under stream and within each stream is a list of topics. Each of those has its own list of lessons. That sounds overwhelming but each lesson is short! The lessons have their own short videos that they follow with practice questions. There is also a lesson summary available for each lesson. It is like a note page for the lesson that they can click on. Each topic also has a choice at the top for diagnostic tests. They can choose a standard test or a comprehensive test.
5th Grade Streams and Topics

5th Grade Addition and Subtraction Lessons

Example From a Lesson Video

Pro #3- Independent work for kids with little to no interaction from the parent/ teacher.

There are so many ways to make this math program work for your family or individual child. Just to give the program a good trial, I had each child go through the topics and take the comprehensive diagnostic tests. Remember they were each working on the grade level they just completed. If they were unable to pass the test (the default passing grade is 90% but I changed it to 80%) then they could move on. If they didn't pass, I had them do the lessons for that topic and try again. It might work better for your family to have them do each lesson in order and then do the test. That's what I am planning to have them do when they begin the next grade level. If you have a really math oriented student, they may just want to skip all around and try different grades and topics.

So since this is basically hands free for parents (WOOHOO!) how do you keep up with their progress? There are so many ways! First, a parent email is sent weekly. It includes a report for each child's progress that lists their work for each day. There are scores included for any lessons and tests that they did as well as an overall grade for them. Second, you can log into the parent account at anytime to view their progress. All the same information is included there. Third, the kids can keep up with their own work through an "Awards and Reports" button. They can also look for a little number 1 next to their topics to see if they have passed the diagnostic test. I'm pretty detail oriented so I also designed some printables so we could easily see what they had left to do.

Awards and Reports

Detailed Report

Summary Report

The tables I created to help the kids keep up with their test scores and progress.

In our experience, CTC Math works. The lessons are short and engaging. The kids don't feel burdened by the tasks or tests because they aren't long and drawn out. The kids get "awards" (certificates) when they complete all the lessons in a topic. That was a great motivator and so was the overall grade score. They both asked me to check theirs at least once a week. I think the thing they both commented on the most was the instant results. Each question was marked correct or incorrect instantly so they knew if they were doing a problem the right way. I love that they could work independently. They really didn't need any help or instruction from me at all. I was able to just ask them to do a test or a certain number of lessons and off they went. I also like the fact that this program is good for a whole year. While I'm not completely ready to abandon our regular math curriculum, this is certainly a wonderful program to use in addition to it or on breaks from it. If you have a student that is struggling, this is a terrific tutor program. I plan to have them continue working on CTC through the summer. They are almost finished with the grade levels they are on, and then I will have them start the next level. I can definitely see why so many families use CTC Math as their only math curriculum!

Want to know what other Crew members thought about CTC 12 Month Family Plan?

CTCmath Review
You can connect with CTC on Facebook

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Notes of Grace

I recently read When Mercy Rains by Kim Vogel Sawyer. The story intrigued me so I was excited to receive Book 2 of The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy to review. When Grace Sings continues the story of Alexa Zimmerman in the Arborville Old Order Mennonite community. Alexa has now opened the Grace Notes Bed and Breakfast at her grandmother's house.

Briley Forrester is a smooth talking reporter from Chicago who has come to the community for an extended stay at the B and B. He is hoping to scoop a story that shows the Mennonite are just like everyone else. Of course, he keeps his goal a secret and tries his best to make himself cozy with the locals.

On top of dealing with Briley, Alexa finds herself hosting her cousin Anna-Grace. There are family secrets that Alexa is trying to keep from her cousin. Anna-Grace is in town to work on a family home with her intended Stephen. Stephen has secrets of his own that he is trying to hide.

Kim Vogel Sawyer has a unique way of spinning a story that seems to have no favorable conclusion. I enjoyed this book (and the previous one) because I was guessing until the very end. I enjoyed the story and the ending of this book but there are a lot of loose threads! I hope I get my hands on book 3 soon so I can see how it all ends. I also like that this isn't a typical Amish or Mennonite fiction. Because Alexa was raised outside of the community, the book really melds the cultures. This also isn't a romance novel and it isn't a mystery. It's just a woven tale with some humor and suspense. Definitely a fantastic summer read!

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Big Huge IEW Review

I first heard about Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) several years ago. It sounded like a good program, but I lost interest when I heard teachers had to watch their own DVDs. Honestly I like curriculum with little to no prep on my end. However, the last 2 years I have felt like the kids needed some serious help in the writing area. When I got the opportunity to review the Deluxe Combo Teacher/ Student Writing Package Level B with Fix It! Grammar 1 and 2, it felt like an enormous blessing. The package even comes with A Word Write Now and Portable Walls! Don't worry I will explain it all!

So the big portion of this package is the writing curriculum. It is so much more than just a curriculum though. As I mentioned before, there is a learning seminar for the teacher. Andrew Pudewa is the IEW guy and on the Teaching Writing: Style and Structure (TWSS) DVDs, he teaches you to teach your kids. Seminar Notes are included in the deluxe combo so you feel like you are at his live seminar. There are 12 DVDs so you probably won't want to sit down and watch it all as one session. There is a viewing guide on the IEW site to help you correspond your DVDs to the lessons your kids will be doing. I may have scoffed at the idea of watching my own videos but this seminar is fantastic! I have learned so much already and it really helps me "speak the language" with my kids. Plus Andrew Pudewa is a funny guy! 

The second half of the writing intensive is for the students. They get their own DVDs to watch along with a notebook of handouts and lesson plans. This Student Writing Intensive program is really broken down to make it simple. There are 9 units and each one is given about 2 weeks of plans. We received Level B (recommended grades 6-8). One of my favorite things about this deluxe package is that everything is included to help you take it down to Level A or up to Level C. IEW is super homeschool family friendly so TWSS is intended to use for all your kids. Apple was our primary user for this but I was able to use some of the downloads included with this package to allow Speedy to work at his own level. The Premium Subscription includes several downloads including streaming video and many extra samples for each unit!

The basic idea is the teacher watches their DVD and then the students watch their own DVD. Then the kids can jump into writing. Both Apple and Speedy willingly (almost happily) did their IEW assignments. They were so excited to use ink pens instead of pencils (a Pudewa suggestion). They did have some questions that I could easily answer since I had watched my portion of the assignment. They work on a unit for about 2 weeks (roughly 2 writing assignments) and then start a new unit. We stuck with our typical 4 day per week schedule. All the extra samples with the premium downloads give plenty of samples for students of different grade levels to use and so this can be used year after year. The price upfront is costly, but when you consider that the program can be used for multiple students over a span of years then it is very reasonable. The IEW suggestion is to go through each of the 9 units once per grade or school year. During our trial, we went through the first few units. This program is so flexible. We could just pick up at the next unit in the fall or we can start over (probably what we will do). I've been really impressed with their enthusiasm and with the writing samples they've turned in. This program just makes sense. 

The Portable Walls is a resource for the students. It is basically a break down of each unit. Rather looking at lots of writing posters or taking tons of notes, your student can use this folder style reference. My kids are very visual and both of them love having this at their fingertips. There are also loads of adverb and preposition suggestions. A second resource included in the deluxe combo is A Word Write Now. Think of it as a thesaurus alternative. This fun little resource is geared towards kids. It gives plenty of word substitutes along with tons of other information. There are categories like "Words to Describe Time" and "Words for Smelling". The kids love looking through this book for dress ups. 

IEW Review
The other portion of this package is Fix It! Grammar. Apple hasn't been thrilled with any of the grammar programs we've tried until this one. I opted for levels 1 & 2 for her although I'm sure she could have easily done levels 3 & 4. Since this was a new program I thought it was best for her to start at the beginning. The teacher manual is a physical, spiral bound book for each level. We printed the student book from the website and put it in a 3 ring binder with a spiral notebook. Each week the student has a grammar lesson, and then they have basically 1 sentence to work on each day. The sentence is used to label parts of speech and punctuate. After having it checked, they write the sentence very neatly (yay handwriting!) in their notebook. In the back of the notebook, they keep a vocabulary list that they add to each day. This seems so overly simple, but it is practice, practice, practice. The daily sentences are part of a larger story that they are writing in their notebook. Apple loves it! The story keeps her interested and she doesn't feel overwhelmed with a whole page of sentences to work on. Level 1 is named "The Nose Tree" so she can't wait to find out where the story leads. IEW is all about keeping language arts fun and interesting for the kids. It is Level 1 so it is beginning with the basics like nouns and articles. You can also purchase this Deluxe Combo Level B with Fix It! Grammar 3 & 4. Speedy is still using the grammar program we previously had although I think he would enjoy this as well. Fix It! Grammar can also be purchased separately. 

I could spend all day telling you all about IEW. If you are interested in learning more, I'd suggest their Structure and Style Overview DVD. It came with my package, but I also had a copy I got last year. This DVD is a snippet of the teacher seminar with an overview of all 9 units. I had already started incorporating some of those ideas before we received our Deluxe Combo. It would be a great way for you to decide if you think this program would work for your kids or classroom. 

IEW Review

This program is huge and so much better than I expected it to be. I love organization and this package is well put together. All my downloads are safely on my computer (and saved in my IEW account online for a year), my Teaching Writing: Structure and Style notebook and the Student Writing Intensive notebook are neatly put together, and the Fix It! Grammar Level 1 is printed and in order. I felt intimidated by it all at first but once I dug in it all made sense. The downloads also include 2 mp3 talks that are helpful in understanding the IEW concept. In summary, I would recommend this to EVERYONE. All of you. It is that good. Most programs I think would work best based on teacher/ student personality, but I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from IEW. 

Want to learn more about products from Institute for Excellence in Writing? Check out these other Crew reviews:
IEW Review
Connect with IEW on social media:
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