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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hospitality Update

10 months into the year! Time has really flown right by. I'll be honest. Our visitor count this month was extremely low. We've had a couple of people around but nothing to post (boast) about.

However I look forward to my November Hospitality Update to be an exciting one. We are hosting a large Thanksgiving meal for both of our families and some friends here next month. I'll say that's why our October hospitality has been so dismal. I've been diligently working on holiday plans and on our house. I am so excited for our Turkey event!

While it is disappointing to have low results for my "Word of the Year" goals for this month, it's been a calmer, more relaxed month. There have been no sports. We've had a couple of free Saturdays. While we've still had plenty to do, it's been at a slower pace than our normal race.

Have you been keeping up with your 2016 Word of the Year? Have you started to pray about and consider goals for 2017?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Online Elementary Spanish #languagestudy

Speedy loved his Elementary German course from Middlebury Interactive Languages last year. He was thrilled to receive a year of Elementary Spanish 1 Grades 3-5 from them for review this year! This is a 100% online language course. This is a full year course with enough work for 2 semesters. Courses are offered with teacher support, but we received an independent course.

There are 16 units in this Elementary Spanish 1 curriculum. Speedy has used it on his Chromebook with no technical issues. Since it is an online course, internet is required of course. There are speaking labs for each unit so if you want your student to take advantage of those, a computer microphone is required. On an independent course with no teacher support, it is up to you to go in and check those speaking labs. Last year I was able to submit a grade for those. The Demo version I have received for Spanish is not giving me that option, but it isn't a big deal. 14 of the units include 6 lessons each. Unit 8 is a midterm review unit with 3 lessons. Unit 16 is a final review unit that also includes 3 lessons. 
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

One of the unique features in each unit is a story told completely in Spanish. The stories include lots of animation and focus on the words the student is learning for the lesson. These stories are an immersion lesson for the students as they learn a new language. They see and hear the story more than once so they understand it a little more each time. Speedy loved these stories in his German lessons, and he is enjoying them just as much in his Spanish lessons! Other work in the lessons includes matching pictures, the speaking labs, quizzes, and even coloring pages! Each component speaks the words so the student is hearing them again and again. There are even some cultural lessons included to help the student get a better understanding of the people who natively speak the language.

Speedy has currently been working on the program 4 days per week. It doesn't take him long to do each lesson so I haven't made him slow down. At this rate he will be finished in about a semester's time. Typically an elementary student could work on this 2-3 days per week and finish in one school year. There is a calendar on the website for the lessons, but it is based on a 5 day per week schedule. I believe it is mostly for use with teacher support packages. The first page after login will show the next lesson based on the calendar. Since we aren't following that schedule, Speedy uses the table of contents to find his next lesson. Completed lessons have a check mark next to them in the drop down menu.



One reason we love Middlebury Interactive Languages is because it can be done independently. Speedy can go in and complete his lessons without any help from me. His work is graded immediately, and I can go in at any time and check his scores. I can see his grades by activity or check a "Grade Report" for an average. Since I cannot grade the speaking evaluations, he doesn't have a grade for those.

The courses are on the higher end of the budget for a single class, but they make it worth it because everything is so easy to use! I needed some help from Customer Service when we first received access, and they were super helpful and quick to respond. I'm already impressed with how much Spanish Speedy is retaining while using this program. He enjoys it, and I love exposing him to other cultures and languages! Middlebury Interactive Languages offers courses in Spanish, French, Chinese, and German in a variety of levels. 

Find out what language other members of the Homeschool Review Crew received:
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Leading Up to the Holidays Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I shared my game plan for early prepping for the holidays. Yesterday we had a "free" Saturday. That never happens! I took advantage of the time to continue my holiday planning. I got a few more dates and times on my calendar. I worked on my Thanksgiving shopping list by marking off the items we already purchased. I cleaned out all my kitchen cabinets (looking for a lost slow cooker cord!).

I also made all my Christmas planning sheets. In the past, I've used a few planning pages in my homeschool planner. The one I have this year didn't include those types of pages. Just like with my Thanksgiving pages, I set out to find some free printables online. I couldn't find anything like what I needed! I then did a check in my downloads folder here on my computer and found a free Christmas planner from a few years ago. I decided which of the pages I could use and printed those. I used some very pretty snowflake paper I bought years and years ago. I've dragged that paper through all of our moves never knowing what to use it for. It was perfect to print all my Christmas pages! I stuck them in my big family binder that I started using this year. Now they stick out so I can find them easily, and my kids shouldn't be snooping in the binder at all.

I made a Christmas Card list to keep track of those I send and receive. I also realized my address file is woefully out of date so I will be working on updating that over the next few weeks so I can send out cards after Thanksgiving. I also made a Christmas menu page and shopping list page. We don't usually do a huge dinner here for Christmas, but we will have a small meal. I can also keep up with the dishes I need to take to gatherings on those lists. I made a separate shopping page for gifts. The big portion of my pages is devoted to gifts. I found a few years ago that it is a good idea to keep track of the gifts I buy. Otherwise when I start so early shopping I forget what I have and buy some people more gifts than I intended! I also think it's great to start early thinking about who you will need to shop for so there aren't too many surprises on an already thin holiday budget. While I'm not the most organized holiday shopper, I do think I'm improving a little each year.

Don't be afraid to make your own printables rather than finding freebies online or paying for them! Most of my Christmas pages included simple tables or lines. Pop a centered title at the top and hit print. I spent less than 20 minutes making the printables that I designed. Not only was it fast and insured I had exactly what I needed, I didn't put a lot of extra images or designs on them so I saved ink. Using pretty paper made them unique without wasting a load of ink.

Have you started planning for Christmas? Are you an organized shopper or do you just wing it?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My New Bible

When my Sunday School class was reading through the Bible together, I really highlighted and marked my way through my NIV Bible. As we read and studied each week, we compared versions. I realized I really wanted to get back to a NKJV Bible. While I've enjoyed NIV through the years, I've always kept a variety of Bibles to study and use. While we own many Bibles, I found I didn't really have one convenient for carrying to and from church. During that year, I also discovered holding a physical Bible daily and each Sunday really made a difference in my study time.

So I set out to find a Bible to become my new, unmarked primary Bible. I found the opportunity to review this NKJV Study Bible from Thomas Nelson. It has a blue on blue imitation leather cover and it is a large size Bible. I was disappointed because the website lists this as a red letter Bible (which I really wanted!), but the version I was sent does not have red letter. It has a blue on blue cover. I already accidentally put a little ink mark on the cover so I've order a Bible cover for it!

This Bible has a classic feel to it. There are silver edges to the pages. The text is split in the middle with references. The bottom of each page contains study elements to go with the texts. There are in text charts, maps, and word studies. The front holds a table of contents for easy reference for each of those. The Old and New Testaments are both included. The back of the Bible is a full section of study tools from indexes to a concordance to full color maps. 

Even though I wish it was red letter edition, I am looking forward to studying, marking, and carrying this Bible for a long season. I believe it will hold up well especially with an additional cover on it. I want my children to see me USING my Bible. I want them to remember me walking in to church every Sunday with God's Word at my side. 

This Signature Series Bible is guaranteed for life and included a free study download. Registering my Bible and receiving the download was an easy online task.

New Christmas Stories to Cherish #familymanministries

One of the latest items we have received to review was The Familyman's Christmas Treasury- Audio Collection. The Familyman was generous enough to send us one audio file on CD and 8 stories as Digital Downloads. The physical Christmas Treasury- Audio Collection includes the first 6 stories in the Christmas collection. A total of 13 stories about Christmas and Easter are available from The Familyman.

These stories are written Todd Wilson who is known as The Familyman. Jim Hodges lends his voice as the narrator for each one. In all we received:

* Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster
* Cootie McKay's Nativity
* The Stranger 
* The Bishop's Dream (CD and download)
* Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest
* Gladys Remembers Christmas
* The Secret of the Snow Village
* It's Called Christmas

Todd Wilson is known for his humor and most of these stories have some funny bits in them. More than that though, these stories are poignant Christmas tales that all point to our Savior as the real reason for Christmas. Each one tells a unique story that gently points to a baby in a manger. Some of the stories had a very nostalgic feel like The Secret of the Snow Village. This story focuses on a little girl who likes to play with her grandmother's special Christmas decoration. 

My favorite story is Cootie McKay's Nativity. This funny story has a sweet feel when the town's outcast comes through in a big way and learns about Jesus in the process! While it was my favorite, I enjoyed each of these short stories. Most were about 20 minutes long. The shortest was around 12 minutes and the longest is about 30 minutes. It's Called Christmas is another one I really enjoyed. It tells of a future when Christmas is no longer Christmas. A message is coming back in time to remind us not to allow the world to change it into just another holiday. It feels like most of the world has turned away from the sacred meaning of Christmas doesn't it?

At Christmas time ( soon as Thanksgiving ends...), we have our favorite movies, carols, traditions and stories that we like to spread throughout the season. I can't wait to add these to our collection! I love to include as much about Jesus and His birth in the season as possible. My kids have already heard some of these stories during this review period, but I know they will treasure adding them to our Christmas festivities. These would be great to play for the family during a get together or after a special meal. What a great way to get a half hour of downtime as a family! We don't focus on Santa at all, but I do really like the story The Bishop's Dream. It is told as Saint Nicholas waking up to find Christmas has become all about him instead of Jesus. It is a wonderful little story that fully supports the things we've always told our kids about Christmas and Jesus. 

These special Christmas stories by Todd Wilson are also available as books! As CDs, Digital Downloads, or books, these would make fantastic Christmas gifts! I really was impressed with the unique feel each of these stories had. Sometimes it seems like Christmas has been so overdone that there's nothing new under the sun for the season. I think Todd Wilson has proved me wrong here! 

The Familyman website offers the The Familyman's Christmas Treasury- Audio Collection as well as many other products. There are homeschool books, books for moms, books for dads, t-shirts, and even craft kits. Todd Wilson is a homeschool dad who wants to encourage other dads so there are resources just for the fellas too.

Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew received these stories as well, see what they have to say about them:

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Monday, October 17, 2016

A Snippet

A couple of weeks ago I was spending some time in prayer when I really felt these words pressed on me. I posted them on one of my personal social media accounts and the words seemed to resonate with a lot of friends. I thought I'd share them here in case you need to hear them too.

Is a snippet enough? We look at someone's social media, a snippet of their life, and decide who that person is and if we envy them or not. We look at a snippet of a video and decide we understand the whole situation and motive. Some take a snippet of Scripture, a verse or phrase, and base their lives on it without ever understanding the whole story. I want to look at the big picture. I want to understand the whole story. A snippet isn't enough.

From other people's posts and blogs, I think people in my generation are really aware that someone's social media accounts don't reflect their real lives. "Keeping it real" and other hashtag phrases indicate a true life, not perfect moment post, but those are usually in the midst of all the posts that make our lives look perfect. I'm glad most of my friends and people older than us see the reality in social media, but I really have compassion for those younger generations. The ones who are constantly attached to their phones. The ones who base their assessment of the day by the number of hearts or likes they received on their latest selfie. The ones who are bombarded with adult and x-rated images because they are allowed on social media sites.

Protect your babies. Talk to them about how unrealistic social media is. Take them to places with real people and insist they put down their phones. Make sure they have plenty of screen free hours in their day. Insist they bring their friends home for dinner and conversation. Don't let them live a snippet of life instead of a whole one. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Leading Up to the Holidays

Don't get upset at the title! I know it isn't Christmas yet. I'm just as irritated as you when I walk in the stores and see Christmas trees up and carols playing when it's still 92 degrees outside. I have put out my fall decorations, but it's certainly time for that! My post today isn't so much about decorating though. I love to organize and plan so I just wanted to give you a few tips now to begin prepping for the holiday season so things won't be so stressful over the next couple of months.

1. Plan your dates and times. It never hurts to get things on the calendar. Sit down with the other people in your family or group that help make the plans. Mark the calendar for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other other traditional get togethers. We actually picked our dates a couple of weeks ago.

2. Now that your dates and times are set, start inviting people. I do a mixture of invitations. Some people get phone calls, some get texts or Facebook messages. I printed out some cute invitations for my kids to make out, but we haven't gotten started on those yet. You can always find free printables online if you want a more traditional invitation style. Make sure to let guests know if you'd like them to contribute to a meal or gathering with a food item, gift to swap, or other thing. Getting the word out early about your gathering will give more people an opportunity to give it priority. We don't do our Thanksgiving gathering on Thanksgiving. We found out years ago that doing the Saturday before or after means more extended family and friends can join us. We also work around those who may work on the actual holiday.

3. Plan your own menu and shopping list. I looked at free printables online but ended up making my own printables for Thanksgiving. I included a guest list, menu, and shopping list. While I am asking guests to bring a side, dessert, or 2 liter, I want to have a basic meal plan for the meats and dishes my mom and I will prepare. I make my shopping list really early so I can pick a few non-perishable items up each shopping trip. That saves me from having one huge trip right before the gathering. It also makes the holidays a little easier on the budget!

4. If the gathering is in your home, take a few hours to work in each room leading up to the holidays. Since Thanksgiving is here this year (2nd annual! WOO!), I have already started this process. I've cleaned out cabinets and rearranged some things in my kitchen to make it more efficient. I've also started considering extra table placement based on what worked and didn't work last year. I have an eye on making the day smooth so I can enjoy it myself! While some folks in my family laugh at my early preparations, I know that time will fly! By working now on house preparations, I will be able to focus on cleaning and cooking when time comes for our family meal.

5. Get the kids involved! We just started a fun Thanksgiving Unit Study (can't wait to share the review with you!), and the kids have been helping with some of the details already. We did a purge to get things ready for an upcoming consignment sale. They've also been helping me rearrange things in the house. They will help with decorations and planning as we get closer to Thanksgiving. Apple made Wassail for our meal last year and is planning to do so again. I'm going to be working with Speedy to find some food item he can prepare and contribute as well (even if it's just the relish tray or some cookies!). Getting the whole family involves teaches them about all the work that goes into a big family meal. It also helps solidify those traditions and memories!

Are you a planner like me or does a list like this make you break out in hives? Have you started any preparations for the holiday season?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Handwriting Curriculum that Really Helps #hsreviews

I've received so many wonderful homeschool products to review this years, but I think the one I recently obtained from Everyday Education, LLC is my favorite so far. I say "favorite" a lot on the blog, but Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting is an answer to prayer. Now the title doesn't sound like something amazing for my son, but it is! We received this 218 page curriculum as an ebook. It is recommended for primary elementary ages or as a remedial tool.

Speedy has always struggled with handwriting. The first few years I just dismissed it as part of being a boy, and I didn't want to compare his handwriting to his sister's. A couple of years ago I realized it was more than that, but I continued to hope it would improve on its own. Since then I've done a lot of research and it's quite possible he has a mild case of a diagnosable condition. At this time, we've elected not to have him tested or diagnosed but to work more diligently with him at home to see if we could find some means of improvement. When I got the chance to review Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting, the summary I saw specifically mentioned Italic writing is great for those with handwriting issues.

The book begins with some lovely tips for teaching your child to read and write. Speedy has no issues with reading so it wasn't our focus while using the book. Following the tips, there is a list of scheduling options. One is for 5 days a week for a student who is already reading. It recommends about 5 minutes a day. That's close to what we've been doing. The beginning of the book gives each letter in Italic form with a diagram for proper writing of the upper and lower case letters. It begins with vowels and then moves on to consonants. Since Speedy is "unlearning" bad habits while learning new, good writing skills, we've moved slowly. He usually does the first page (tracing and copying) and then uses one of the lined pages (included for copying) to rewrite those letters again. When he's gotten the letter right, we move on. Sometimes he only needs the original page and one copy page. Sometimes he needs 2 or 3 copy pages. I'm actually very happy that I received this as a download so I can reprint as many pages as I need.

We began this school year trying to do cursive. Even though he's in 4th grade, he just wasn't ready. Introducing Italics instead has been a wonderful step. He's still learning a new style of writing (so doesn't feel "behind"), but it is improving his writing skills all around. There is a beauty to Italics. I laugh because I never really thought of writing in Italics. It's more of a font in my mind. However, the approach focuses on simple curves and straight lines rather than perfect circles. This is huge for a child that struggles to write!

After the suggested schedule, there is a section titled "Four Ways This Book Can Be Used". "To Teach Children to Have Fast, Legible, Attractive Handwriting" is number 3. These are the suggestions we followed. There are further sets of instructions including the idea to introduce the letters with Chapter 2 (which we have been doing) and then to skip to Chapter 6 if your student can read. Chaper 6 gives some variations on the way Italics can look and then the student does copywork on "The Night Before Christmas". This is where students will learn to slant their writing. I think Speedy will really excel with that type of writing. This curriculum also talks about joining Italics letters together. I think he will do much better with that style of writing than with cursive right now. Along with joining letters, this curriculum also goes over writing smaller letters. This is also an area Speedy needs to work on so I'm looking forward to him hitting this section.

The book is intended to teach your child to write and read in 60 days. As I stated before, we are really taking our time. He's so excited about it though. He wants to get a calligraphy pen to practice that way as well. Edged pen writing is addressed in some of the later chapters. This is one of the few times that a curriculum has made such a difference that I could cry tears of joy! While his handwriting may not be perfect or beautiful right now, he's well on his way and has made tremendous progress in a month. For the $29 price tag (as of 9/29/16), I wish I had known about this book and bought it ages ago!

To recap, this curriculum is to help your child read, help your child write, improve your child's penmanship, or to improve your own penmanship. If your child is struggling to write well or if cursive doesn't seem like an option for them, I highly recommend a copy of Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting. Italics may be the answer to your prayers as well!

Find out what Everyday Education, LLC treasures the other members of the Crew reviewed:
Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Travel Through Time #childrenshistory

I have a great review of 4 books brought to you by Carole P. Roman and I received If You Were Me and Lived in...the Middle Ages (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 6) and If You Were Me and Lived in...the American West (Volume 7). We also got a copy of If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 1). These paperback books are less than 100 pages and include loads of fun illustrations.

We started with If You Were Me and Lived in...The American West (because we are rebels who don't need to go in chronological order!). This book tells a story about traveling to Oregon in a covered wagon. It reminded me of my favorite computer game from elementary school! This fictional story is based on historical information about families that traveled west in the 1800s. The tale gives broad information on the time as well as some fun little facts about daily life on the trail. At the end, there are short biographies on some real people from that time.

Next we read If You Were Me and Lived in The Middle Ages. After doing a special Middle Ages study a couple of years ago, both kids gravitate towards information from that time. At 97 pages, this is the longest of the four books. The illustrations in this book are by Mateya Arkova, and they are striking. In mostly pastel colors, they really stand out and leave some details open to the imagination. I think this book gives more actual information on the time period and includes a lot of vocabulary.

For those two books, we read them together and then I used questions from Carole P. Roman's blog to turn some fun books into some learning time. We continued our adventures by reading If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America which I reviewed in depth a few months ago and If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece. The latter was also illustrated by Marteya Arkova and includes similar pastel pictures. It is 54 pages long and follows the same pattern of giving historical information as well as clues into daily life. It includes a glossary and a listing of some of the Greek gods and goddesses.

All 4 of these books are a great way to spark an interest in specific historical time periods. Every time my kids read a book like this, they spend the next few months researching more information about the time period on their own. This is some of the very fun homeschool learning that takes place apart from regular "school time". Carole P. Roman offers several other books in this series and she has written many other children's books as well. She has a popular series of If You Were Me and Lived In...books that focus on other cultures rather than time periods.

This year I have tried to move away from history as something the kids do together. I was excited about having them work independently on some history curriculum I thought they would love. It hasn't gone as expected, and we've struggled to find a good "resting" place this school year for history. These books were timely. I let both kids read them and then the one that needed a little more history work did the bulk of the questions I found on the author's blog. This worked out well to give us some history for a few weeks. While the books would be pricey to buy all of them for one school year, purchasing a few at a time to use to begin a unit study or curriculum on a time period is certainly a worthwhile idea.

Find out which books other Crew members received:
If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and}

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Hospitality Update

September was long y'all. I feel like 2016 is zooming by, but I thought September was never going to end. It was full of soccer games and practices, outside classes for one child, co-op classes for both kids, work, work, and more work. It was a tough month. School is still a little rocky, but we are muddling through. One more week and we will be on fall break. All of us are looking forward to that. Hopefully it will provide the reset we need to get through the rest of the semester.

We are also in the process of visiting churches closer to our home. I would LOVE if you would pray for us in that journey. It isn't an easy one. It isn't one we really want to be on. I am praying that we will find our new home church soon.

However, on the hospitality front, we did well in September. We had friends over for a family meal. We've had family in and out rather consistently. I've been pleased so far. Part of my hope in 2016 was connecting to our community and finding friends here. That is going really well. We've joined a local homeschool co-op, we've talked with other parents more at the soccer games this season (and my sweet Apple's team ended #1! WOO!), and we've been connecting with people as we visit churches in the area.

While September felt like the longest month ever and it was certainly a rough month, there have been lots of bits of sunshine in it. Change is tough, but there are usually great things at the end.

How's 2016 going for you? Are you still working on your goals or word of the year? Have you been practicing hospitality? Is this a smooth sailing homeschool semester or a rough one (like ours!)?