Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 10/23/14 Conner Prairie Learning

I am so thankful for the opportunities we have as a family to volunteer at Conner Prairie! Over the years we have all learned a lot about Indiana history, animal husbandry, acting, and music. The girls have grown up at Conner Prairie. We have been members for a long time, but the intense learning began when Emily first applied to be a Youth Volunteer. Then Arlene volunteered, then Kurt and I joined the adult volunteer brigade.

Over the years we have been able to enjoy several concerts by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra through volunteering. We've also been privileged to make many friends. Our life has been fuller because of all the opportunities. The girls now love to spin wool, learn historic songs, tell stories, and care for the animals. 

We are thankful for all the fun we have at Conner Prairie!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Favorite Crew Reviews- Honorable Mentions

The Schoolhouse Review Crew has been a tremendous blessing to us over the past three years. We have had opportunities to review so many amazing products: books, games, apps, skincare. The Crew is accepting applications for the 2015 year. To get you thinking about it some more, we wanted to share our top 10 favorite reviews. But first, today we're going on a little trip to remember the Honorable Mentions.

These Honorable Mention winners were outstanding. Alas, you can only have 10 in your top 10, so here are those four we just couldn't pass up mentioning again... they were so close to the top 10. Just in case you're wondering - yes, we do still have them all, and use them a lot!

A Cry From Egypt, VideoText Interactive, King Alfred's English, High School Prep Genius

The Honorees, in no particular order...

VideoText Interactive Algebra
Emily still uses this on a weekly basis. This online program has been a tremendous help to us, as Emily and I sometimes butt heads a little when I'm trying to teach her math. With this wonderful program, she can watch the videos, work her problems, and only needs me if something still isn't quite clicking. Tom Clark, who wrote the program is a gem of a man, and was so pleasant to work with, both derringer review, and afterwards. You can read our whole review of VideoText Interactive Algebra here.

A Cry From Egypt
Arlene adored this book by Hope Auer, and is anxiously awaiting me buying her the sequel. This historical fiction book written by a homeschool graduate captures the reader's attention and won't let go. Arlene wrote quite a bit of this review, you can check it out here.

High School Prep Genius
How do you get your High Schooler to keep records of all they have done? You buy them this book and make them read it! This meaty book by Jean and Judah Burk (popular convention speakers) encourages you to work together with your High Schooler to chronicle what they have done, and plot a course for their future. High School Prep Genius can offer a lot of quality advice for families with adolescents.

King Alfred's English
I still refer to this book by Laurie White almost every week. Something always seems to come up about the roots of a word, the spread of the English language, or British history in our discussions. I learned a ton from this book, and am so thankful we reviewed it in ebook format, as it let me tote it all around the house on the iPad. Find out more in my review of King Alfred's English.

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Mommy Blogger

"You are a Mommy Blogger," Arlene stated as she kissed my head and walked out of the room just now. Last night the girls and I watched "Moms' Night Out." We laughed, we cried, and I think the girl have a better understanding of how overwhelmed I sometimes feel with this whole Motherhood thing.  I loved the movie when I went to see it back in May with some of my best Mom-friends, and I enjoyed it again yesterday.

Moms, stress, Mommy Bloggers

I had never really thought of myself as a Mommy Blogger before Arlene's comment. When I think of Mommy Bloggers, I think of ladies with little kids, perfect hair, and about 3000 pins on Pinterest. Moms who make play-doh from scratch and have their family's pictures taken in matching clothes every year.  I, on the other hand, have teenagers, graying hair, and have only recently dipped my toes into Pinterest. Let's not even talk about how much play-doh I've purchased, or how long it has been since we had a family picture taken. Nevertheless, I think back to what Sean Austin's character said to his "wife" in Moms' Night Out. "You have something to say. Your job is important." 

On my own, nothing I say makes a difference, but, with God's help, maybe  my words can offer encouragement to others. My job as a Mom is important. Of that I am sure. Just take a look around at what happens when I'm not at home, or when my attitude is poor. The Dad may be the Spiritual leader of the household, but the Mom is the emotional leader, and when she falls, its a mess.

That leads me to this: What am I modeling to our daughters? Yesterday I was a very bad example of how to be a Mom and Wife. Today, God is giving me a new chance. Thankfully His mercies are new every morning! I must choose to surrender to God's will for my life. That is the only way to make a positive impact on others.

So to all you Mommies out there who are struggling with something, take heart. I know life is tough, yet I also know that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL! He will not leave you or forsake you. Each day you can find new mercy and strength. Hopefully you can find joy in Him for your journey. It doesn't matter if you're a blogger or not, what color your hair is or if you've even heard of Pinterest. What does matter is that as a daughter of the King, God wants to care for you and love you through each and every day of your motherhood.

From one Mom to another -
     Your job is important!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 10/16/14 - God's Wonderful Creation

Thankfulness, creation, God's love

I am thankful for the many ways God shows us beauty through His wonderful creation. So many things bear witness to a Master Designer who wants us to enjoy beauty. The colors of the flowers, the turning of the leaves, the sheen on a ripe, juicy apple. All around us creation sings the glories of God.

Last night, about midnight, on my way home from work, I saw a fox. That is an unusual sight for anywhere, but especially inside the city limits. I had been having a difficult day, but God used this wonder of His creation to remind me that He sees everything I am going through. He knows when I need encouragement. He knows when I need help. God is always here with me.

I stand amazed at the beauty of God's creation. I kneel in awe at the beauty God has made of my life. Beauty for ashes - daily!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia iWitness books - a Crew Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has recently added three more titles to their Worldview Curriculum offerings. Arlene (age 14) and I were privileged to get to review all three books for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. The three books are: iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness, and New Testament iWitness. Each title retails for $14, and each book runs about 60 pages.

Christian Worldview

These three titles are each quite unique, but first I’ll give you our overall thoughts on these latest offerings. These softcover books measure 6 by 9 inches, so they’re a great portable size, whether you want to read them on the couch, or slip them into your purse of book bag to take in the car. The layout of the pages resemble a field journal or scrapbook. The premise is that the books present the evidence, and invite you to follow the trail to understand it better. 

For the most part, we liked the overall layout style, but at times, especially in the Old Testament book, it almost became overwhelming. In the other two titles, the inclusion of photos of both artifacts and places, maps, and historic paintings does a solid job of presenting a 2D scrapbook. The issue we had with the Old Testament book was that with all of the non-traditional typefaces used for the text, plus pictures of Hebrew scrolls and Latin text, it sometimes made it difficult to stay focused on just one part of the page. If you have a child who has problems tracking across the page, or with handwriting-looking typefaces, you will need to read these books to them, not with them. The scrapbook/ journal theme includes sections of type set at a 15-20 degree angle off of the horizon, like scraps glued on a page. I think this might make it more difficult for many younger readers to stay focused.

The reading level for these books is about age 11 and up, however, there will be parts where your older children, and even some adults, may struggle initially with putting all the pieces together. These three titles were written and designed by Doug Powell. This is the first time we had read anything by Mr. Powell, and our overall experience was good.

Since each book is so unique, I want to spend time on each book individually. 

First up is Old Testament iWitness. This was our least favorite of the three titles. While overall it is not a bad book, there were a few points with this book that we struggled to reconcile with the quality and Scriptural focus we have found in other books from Apologia’s Worldview Curriculum titles. On this title, I would highly recommend you read through the whole book before reading it with your children. Maybe what bothered me won’t bother you, and then it will be no big deal, but at least you won’t be taken by surprise. The first thing was a minor annoyance, and wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book. . . but it seems strange, so I’m noting it. This book’s title is: Old Testament iWitness, and while it does give a lot of information about both the Christian Old Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures, or “Hebrew Bible,” it can’t seem to come to a focusing conclusion on the Old Testament. In trying to spend adequate time explaining the differences between the Christian OT and the Hebrew scriptures, it seems to spend more time on the Hebrew Scriptures than it does on the Old Testament. It would be better if it had one more section, some sort of wrap-up similar to the last two-page spread in the New Testament iWitness book. Instead, it ends with a two-page spread of the timeline of Creation through Jesus. 

I want to remind you of what was mentioned earlier about this title being visually overwhelming. Even I had trouble staying focused on some of the pages that were all or almost all text and photos of  Hebrew and Latin manuscripts. I think it would be easier to read if they added in a few more pages and spread out the photos of text, or just left some of them out. The fact that the pages are not numbered makes it somewhat difficult for your child to come ask you a question about a particular section if they forget and close the book without a book marker.

The third thing that bothered me about the Old Testament iWitness book is enough to keep me from personally recommending it to you. This may or may not matter to you, so please read this carefully. I take issue with what is presented in the last section on the ‘Torah’ pages. To me, it makes it sound as if they are doubting the Plenary Inspiration of Moses’ books. If you don’t know what this Plenary Inspiration is, do a quick web search (of more than one site) of the term and then jump back over here. This bothered me in how it was presented, because I am concerned that it might lead some children and younger Christians to not understand how all of the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” Here is the text that bothered me:

“The traditional view that Moses wrote Genesis does not mean he didn’t use stories from other cultures or wasn’t inspired. Most of the time the Holy Spirit did not dictate words to Moses, but gave him a message and protected Moses from error as he wrote the books in his own words and decided what material to use for the parts of history that happened before his time. Some things could only come from the spirit, such as the creation account. others might have come from different histories or even Jewish writings that existed before Moses but have since been lost.”

I can understand that the book is supposed to be written to lead the reader along a trail to the conclusion. What I can’t understand is why we would plant a seed of doubt about whether or not all of what Moses wrote was inspired (or borrowed.) The Jews have plenty of their own history for God to have inspired Moses to write about. This just really bothered me. Like I stated before, it may not bother you.

Fear not, there are two other titles we reviewed, and we really liked both of them - a lot!

New Testament iWitness is a jem of a book with a lot of answers. Just before the books were to arrive, Arlene had asked me how we got the books in the Canon of Scripture. I could only remember two of the qualifications, but this book covered the whole process in detail. Enough detail to understand how the Canon was formed, not so much that you get lost in it. Besides answering a lot of our questions in an easy-to-follow format, this book is richly filled with artwork. There are just so many great examples of … I forget the actual term form Art History class, so let’s just call it early Christian Art. Visually this was my favorite book. Woodcuts, tapestries, illuminated Scriptures, frescos, paintings, stained glass, they’re all in here.

This book also includes a few graphics to help illustrate points such as the number of copies still in existence of ancient writings. This book covers how the books in the New Testament were selected, and how they were reaffirmed throughout the ages by various church fathers, and even quoted by secular sources. I found this book well-thought out, well-laid out, and well received. Arlene and I talked quite a bit about how God has preserved His word though out the ages. The only concern Arlene had about this book was that there are a couple of layouts where the text goes from  a (note shape) at the top-right corner of the page to another (paper shape) in the bottom left corner. She said that she’s so used to starting with whatever is most-left on the page that she forgot to start at the top. This is a minor thing, just be sure to read along with your younger children, or ones who have a hard time staying focused so they track across the page correctly.

Besides the non-traditional typefaces used in the other titles, this one has quite a bit of typewriter font, making it easier to read. I loved that this book came to a conclusion! I also appreciated the note at the end that we have 99.5% of the original text (to a great degree of certainty.) This is what we need to be looking for in our Christian Worldview books, ones that point our children to the Bible as an authority, and come alongside us as parents to reinforce what we believe and are teaching in our homes. I would definitely recommend this book!

The third book we received for this review, iWitness Biblical Archaeology was Arlene’s favorite. I really appreciated the introduction where it reminds the reader that archaeological find don’t prove the Bible is true, but they can help us trust the claims of Scripture. Besides, they’re really cool! This book is really laid out like a field journal. It includes photos of archaeological find, places, and tools used for digs. It includes maps, and both recent and historic photographs of archaeologists and dig sites. I think it is fun how each time an archaeological find is shown there is a little “cataloguing” paper tag that tells when when and where it was found… and if it’s on display in a museum, that is also listed. 

When I think about what great linguists it must have taken to translate something like the Weld-Blundell Prism or the Cyrus Cylinder, I have a new appreciation for those who speak multiple foreign languages. Can you imagine translating off of something that can roll? Not to mention that to me the writing just looks like a kid cut into play-doh. Great skills are used in translating!

Arlene got out the atlas a couple times to check where the locations of the archaeological finds were. If you’re looking for an interesting book for a gift for your 11 year old (or older) this would be an awesome choice. How many of your kids know about Hadrian and Constantine and what they though of Bethlehem and Jerusalem? At least now I know. Join in the fun, go order a copy for yourself!

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 10/9/14 - Strength for Today

Right now, I am thankful that today is almost over. It has been a very long day. God grants us the strength we need for each day, and mine for today is spent. 

I am thankful that His mercies are new every morning. As I drift off to bed, I will ask Him for renewed strength for tomorrow. May you find peace, rest, and comfort in His presence.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fortuigence - Essay Rock Star - A Crew Review

How do you keep your students writing? Some students love to write, others avoid it like the plague. As parents we need to find resources that help us encourage our children to keep writing. Writing is really not like grammar, you can't take time off and keep your skills up. If you take too much of a break from writing, you get rusty... and your sentence structure goes downhill. Because I knew it had been a while since we required Emily to take time for some focused writing, I was happy to be a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew's study of the Essay Rock Star Persuasive Essay Writing Course from Fortuigence. Fortuigence has four courses available in its Essay Rock Star series. You should take a look at the other three as well: Personal Statement, Textual Analysis, and Expository Essay. The best part of this review for me? No grading, no proofreading, and lots of email updates on how Emily was doing with her writing!

I'll admit it, I can teach the girls how to write, I've done it in the past, but I'm not always the most patient of teachers. These courses from Fortuigence give you the opportunity to hand off the teaching for a while. If you'd like to read more about why your student needs to learn to write well, check out the overview of the Persuasive Essay course.

If you're already convinced you need to keep your student writing - good for you! Emily, having one main job (student) and one secondary one (volunteer) has a lot more time to focus on her writing than I do. Let's be honest, Moms and Dads have multiple responsibilities, and often as homeschoolers we are teaching various grade levels all in the same day. 

homeschool writing course, online writing course

Ms. I (Lily Iatridis) the teacher, has divided the Persuasive essay into manageable chunks for your student to work on. Each step of the course has a lesson with a video of Ms. I, and text to read, then an assignment. It is a five-step writing process. Emily's course had seven lessons with seven assignments. The awesome approach of Fortuigence is starting where the student is, not where you want them to be. The first lesson focused on what the students would learn from the course, and then required them to submit something they had written in the past six months. Don't worry, if your student hasn't written anything recently, there are prompts to get them to write something and send it in.

For our course, Emily sent in a short story/ novella she had been working on for the summer. Ms. Iatridis was honest and let us know that after reading Emily's pre-assessment piece, she was beyond the usual level of this courses's students. Here is her reply:

"If you wrote that short story, suffice it to say that this short course is far too easy for you! If you were a paying customer I’d refund your money now."

Since we were doing a review, and I wanted Emily to be challenged to write well, without hesitation, and without sloppiness, I knew there would still be value in the course. (I later found out that Ms. I is friends with the author of the course that taught Emily how to write the short story - bonus on the confirmation that this course is a good idea!)

The Essay Rock Star courses cost $57 each. With your student working on the lessons and assignments three days a week, they should finish in seven weeks or less. Most students can probably finish in about 4-5 weeks, but if you have a struggling writer, give then as much time as they need, as long as they are still doing their assignment! 

Emily received an email with feedback after every assignment was submitted. It let her know if she needed to adjust or add anything in the assignment before moving on to the next lesson. Ms. I has admin controls that keep the student on each lesson until they are really ready to proceed. As she works with each student to improve their skills, she also communicates well with the parents. Every week or two I also received an update about how Emily was doing in her course. There is a button on the website where students can contact Ms. I  with their questions, and she is always prompt to reply to emails from parents. One week our home internet went down, so I sent her a quick note to let her know Emily was working on her assignment, but wouldn't be sending it in until the following week.

I think this course has a lot of value, regardless of where your student's current writing ability stands. The focus on mastery is important to us. We want Emily to feel confident in her writing abilities, and we want her to be prepared for College essays and scholarship applications. Ms. I has come up with a quality, non-time-scheduled course, that meets the needs of both student and parent. With her years as a classroom teacher, Lily understands the need for one-on-one time with teens to help them craft a quality piece while learning how to improve their overall writing skills.  We received a link to a rubic, that helped us understand how the course work would be evaluated, and how the student's work would be judged as sufficient or deficient based upon their age (Middle school or High School.) As Emily worked through her lessons, there were links to helpful writing lists and tips. This gives your students another take-away to use on their future writing assignments.

This course really did free me up to focus on other teaching tasks. The $57 cost seems small compared to the value of having a personal writing teacher for your High Schooler. I also like the guarantee (scroll to the bottom of this page,) that if the course isn't a good fit for your student, you have 14 days to request a refund. It is also important as parents that we realize some of our students might not be ready for the course yet, and there is an option for a refund or a delayed credit for that scenario too. I would suggest this course for ages 14 and up. If you have a proficient writer who is younger ( 11 to 13,) they would also get a lot out of this course. Just expect it to take longer for your younger students to complete each assignment.

If you are an adult who needs to write well for work, but struggles to organize your thought and supporting elements, I would suggest this as a refresher course for you. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the course, and give Ms. Iatridis an A!

Fortuigence Review

I would encourage you to connect with Fortuigence on social media. Ms. I posts videos and helpful writing exercises frequently. You can connect with Lily on Facebook, Google +, or Pinterest, just to name a few.

Some of you may be wondering what topic Emily chose to "persuade" with... Music. Later this month I'll have her post it for you to read, to make sure you don't miss it,  make sure you follow our blog via email, Facebook, or Pinterest.

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