Follow our family as we journey through life.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Product Review: The Brinkman Adventures

Brinkman Adventures Review
We take several long car trips a year and when we travel by car we love to listen to stories that help the miles pass quickly. We are always looking for new stories to fill our trips and when I was offered the chance to receive a free copy of The Brinkman Adventures in exchange for a review on this blog, I knew I might have found a new enjoyable go-to!
The Brinkman Adventures tell the stories of a homeschooling missionary family whose adventures will have you laughing, shaking your head in amazement, and contemplating your call to help others in need. Although the stories have been dramatized for entertainment value, the antics of the children, the adventures the family shares, and the stories of the missionaries are all real. The stories are family-friendly and intended for all ages. However, since the series is dramatized, the some stories can get a little intense in nature. There are warnings for children under 10 when those episodes come up. Despite the warnings all my kids listened to them with no problems.
Brinkman Adventures Review
I received The Brinkman Adventures Season 2: Episodes 13 to 24 on CD to review with my family. We started out listening to these stories just as I intended: in the car on long drives. The CDs quickly traveled into the house and before I knew it the kids were several episodes a head of me. "It's okay Mama," they would tell me. "We'll listen to them again when you do!"
There are a lot of aspects that I could relate to in the series. The husband who's up for anything despite the reality of traveling with a LOT of children, the tiredness of the mother, the joy and laughter of the antics of the kids. I appreciated that this wasn't depicting a '"perfect" family; one that prays and everyone is angelic and well-behaved. Although prayer is an important part of family life, the kids are still acting like, well kids. They are misbehaving, arguing, and making messes wherever they go. But they are also Christ-focused, respectful, and loving to each other.  
There are many levels to add depth to each episode. There is the family itself traveling to Mexico. As they travel there are different things going on to make it more than just a mission trip. Then there are the stories of mission trips from folks they meet along the way. Sometimes I would forget that it was the Brinkman's I was listening about and I would instead be in China trying to get a forbidden Bible to a Christian. Anyone who has traveled with a large number of children knows how easy it is to meet and get taken in by folks you don't know. Kids are a natural conversation starter. And traveling in something as large as a bus is bound to get you noticed.
Not all the stories are about overseas mission trips. Folks right here at home need help as well and those adventures are included in the stories. And despite the what I have focused about thus far, the stories aren't all about mission trips. There are plenty of nitty-gritty family issues going on that will make it appealing to every family. Frequent readers know my feelings on 'over-the-top' Christian promotions. This series isn't like it at all. We are talking about an ordinary family, loving Christ and helping others in extraordinary ways.
Age 6: I liked it when the girl was on. The little girl. And the mom. She was nice.

Age 3: I not know! No talk that to me!
Age 8: Was that the one with all the kids? Oh yeah, I really liked listening to that one.

Age 12: I liked learning about all the places they got to explore.

Age 10: It'll be fun to go to Georgia this summer and be able to listen to this again on the way. Did you already put it back into the car so we won't forget it?
Interested in checking out these adventures for yourself? The Brinkman Adventures is available on the website and operates on a donation basis.  The set includes 4 CD's which has 12 episodes and 5 + hours of listening pleasure. The suggested price is $25.00.
Other folks got to review the series as well. Head over to The Schoolhouse Review Crew to read those reviews by clicking the banner below.
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Happy Birthday James!

Twelve years ago there was a young couple living in Boston with a baby due any day who didn't own a car.
The plan was to have a close friend studying to become a priest give them a ride to the hospital in a car that he was going to borrow.
One night the husband arrived home from work several hours early to find his wife in labor.
The friend was called, but could not be reached.
A fierce snowstorm raged outside. Because hey, this was Boston in April.
The snowstorm meant that no cabs could come for the laboring woman.
After several frantic attempts and what seemed like an eternity (but was barely two hours), the friend was reached and he came "quickly" with the car. Quickly in priest time is different than quickly in labor time. Or at least it seemed so at the time.
 None of the three had ever owned a car in Boston, and no one was quite sure of the way to the hospital by car.
A short-cut turned into the wrong way and the trio found that they were actually lost. Everything looks the same in a snowstorm.  
After a few more minor driving mistakes the hospital was found and the trio made it to the labor and delivery unit.
The snowstorm outside had caused the hospital to lose it's power. Back-up power had kicked on, but as a result all the computer stuff was down. Laboring woman began to panic because everything was taking A. Really. Long. Time.
Finally, the young couple made it into a room and a very pregnant doctor was called. She came in with a half-dozen medical students because hey, this was Boston and they were at a Harvard teaching hospital.
Preggo doctor calls a name from her clipboard and a very nervous medical student steps forward, gets into gloves and catches an arriving baby. Time from husband arriving home to arrival of baby was not even four hours.
Since young couple didn't find out sex of baby beforehand, they both look anxiously towards the doctor-in-training. His face lights up with a smile that reaches his ears. He eagerly holds out this marvelous new creature and announces with a joyous cheer, "It's a BOY!"

And just like that, Michael and I had a relative in common.
Happy 12th Birthday to one of the most amazing people I know.


Friday, April 25, 2014

7 Quick Takes 5 Random Thoughts

This post is totally devoted to me bragging on LMCA. So if you aren't interested then just go ahead and "X" out right now.
That also goes for folks who have negative things to say about LMCA. You don't need to read any further. Because, hey. NO ONE ASKED YOU!
Open House last night was a HUGE success! We had three new students register right then and there. We had 23 students this year, and we already have 28 students registered for next year. And it is only APRIL!!!! Some classes are almost full and I am certain will go to a waitlist.
I am so excited about the course material for next year. Everything looks so amazing. It is the kind of education I wish I could have had as a kid. I am just so thrilled my kids get to study this stuff.
Not only do we have almost every family returning in some capacity, we have some incredible new families joining our program. Even though I have just met most of these moms, when we get to talking it is like we have been friends for years. Homeschooling binds you with other families in a unique way.
We still have teaching spots available in math and writing. It's a great way to get a nice discount and also become more involved with the incredible gals running this show.
Seriously though, if you are homeschooling in our area and you haven't checked us out yet, don't waste anymore time because you might miss your chance.
Laurel Mountain Classical Academy

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throw Back Thursday

I am guessing this is about 1985, but I can't be sure.

Product Review: CTC Math

CTC Math Review
Math is hit or miss at my house. Either the kids get it right away, or they don't and I am left scrabbling to invent new ways to explain it and have them practice it. Flashcards aren't helpful and doing every problem together on the board just isn't practical. There are so many online math programs, but many focus on just one skill sequence, or are more "game-like" than I want for my kids.  When I was offered the chance to use a program for free that offered a full skill sequence for all levels in exchange for an honest review on this blog, I said I would definitely try CTC Math!
CTC Math is a comprehensive online tutoring program for grades K to 12. It is a way that students can independently enhance their mathematical ability. Lessons vary in length and depth depending on the content.
I received a 12 Month Family Plan and enrolled Henry (grade 3) and Margaret (grade 1). The enrollment process was very easy and allowed me access to the parent control panel where I could check progress and monitor what lessons they were completing. I found I never really needed to go into that section though, because I set it up to receive emails when the kids completed and mastered sections, as well as a weekly progress report. The emails were easy to understand and allowed me to print out a certificate when achieved.
The log-in process for the students is also really simple and Henry could log himself in right away. I set both kids at their current grade level so they could reinforce and master their current skill sequence. The web pages were easy to navigate and use. The students can watch a short lesson (under five minutes) led by a guy with a nice Australian accent. Graphics are simple and effectively used. If they don't want to watch a lesson, there is an option to read a review of the skills taught. Ten questions follow each lesson, with optional comprehensive tests with each skill. The program encourages 90% or more correct for mastery of material.
As the levels increase there seems to be more skills, topics, subtopics, and questions. For example, Henry in grade 3 had four skill areas: 'numbers, patterns, algebra', 'measurement,' 'space and geometry,' and 'statistics and probability.' Each of those would be broken down into two to ten topics, which would then have two to five subtopics, each with ten questions. Margaret's followed a similar format but with less of each section. So you see, this program is definitely comprehensive.
Students and parents have the ability to view worked problem solutions, allowing for students to see their mistakes and how to correct them. Problem sets can be done over and over allowing for complete mastery of material.
CTC Math Review
There are a ton of ways you can adapt this program to make it work for you. We used it as a daily supplement to our already existing program. With the daily practice of at least ten additional problems for Margaret, and thirty for Henry, I noticed improvement right away with the amount they got incorrect on their other math work. Margaret was also able to complete a lot more different kinds of problems independently. It would take Margaret about 20 minutes to complete her section, and Henry about 10 to 20 minutes.
In addition to a wonderful supplement, it could be used as a "tutoring" program to help students practice skills they are weaker on. It is easy to "bounce" between the levels, so if your fifth grader is only in second grade level for subtraction, you can get that practice in second, while also practicing skills in fifth.
I talked to one mom at a homeschool event that uses CTC math as her only math curriculum for her kids (all 5th grade and under). Her kids were excelling beyond their years and she was telling me about how all their former math struggles were now gone.
The best part of the program for me was how easy it was to adapt to our day, and how simply designed the program is. There are no avatars or cute graphics for the kids to interact and become distracted by. It is appealing in clarity and creativity and doesn't take away from the purpose of the program: to enhance mathematical ability.
One aspect that was challenging for Margaret is that there is no way for the computer to read her the questions, and she has not yet reached fluency in her reading. It was necessary for one of us to always sit with her to read the directions so that she knew what to do. It would be nice if there was an option where the instructions could be repeated out loud for the younger students, or struggling readers.
I think it's really fun because with some programs you have to start all over with a mistake, but with this you can go back and correct your mistakes.

I think CTC Math is fun because sometimes I get 100%.
At the time of this posting, CTC Math is offering sale prices to homeschool subscriptions. You can sign up for as low as $11.97 a month for one student up to $118 for a family subscription for an entire 12 months, with lots of prices and options all in between. Head over to CTC math to explore all their membership options.
Many other folks over at the Schoolhouse Review Crew tried out CTC Math with their kids. Click here to read those reviews, or click the banner below.
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Product Review: Home School Adventure Co.

Home School Adventure Co.
Having a philosophy professor as a husband means that we are always looking for ways for the kids to expand their learning. We strive to have them think deeper than just the surface, and to question and to keep exploring. When I was offered a product for free from Home School Adventure Co. in exchange for a review on this blog, I thought we may have stumbled upon a real gem.
Home School Adventure Co. creates products to help parents educate and inform their child in ways that encourage intellectual growth and the development of compassion, love, and strength. So what does that mean? Well, an example is one of their products, Philosophy Adventure, teaches students in grades 6 to 12 how to question the facts they learn in history in such a way to become better readers, writers, and speakers. That's a main complaint Michael has of his freshman seminar classes. You've got these kids coming out of high school who lack basic writing skills and have no ability to speak articulately in class. Home School Adventure Co., is helping to equip these students for higher level thought and learning. 
Mere Christianity Critical Analysis Journal
I received the Mere Christianity Critical Analysis Journal in digital format to use with James.
I sent the digital file over to a copy place to be printed and bound, but this is just a preference of mine and is not a requirement. This book is intended to be used with C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which you must buy separately. This journal promotes critical thinking using a biblical overview. I was a little confused by what was meant as a "biblical overview" and if that would mean that it was too "religious" for my tastes. Michael and I both shared this product with James, and we didn't find that to be
an issue at all. As the title suggests, this is a Christian-based product, and I found that it was just the right amount of Christianity for us.
The text of Mere Christianity is divided into "books" and each of those books contain several chapters. The journal is set up in such a way that it can be used in a variety of ways and easily adapted to a wide range of homeschooling styles such as independent study, group discussion like in a co-op or youth group, family debate, etc. During the review period we were able to cover the preface and all of the sections in Book 1, which was only about 40 pages in the actual text and about 20 pages in the journal.
Why so little? The product itself is designed for grades 6 to 12, and James is at the youngest end of that range. Covering about one chapter a week with the questions, 10 questions per chapter, was plenty for this soon-to-be twelve-year old. These aren't the types of questions that can be answered in one or two phrases. An example of a question in the journal would not only ask what Lewis describes as right or wrong, but also what evidence he uses to support this argument and a then to provide a common response to moral failure.
The whole point of this journal is to teach the student to be reflective and thoughtful. With questions like the example above, if your student is zipping through the material, you're missing the point. In all it would take James about 15 to 30 minutes to read the chapter during his regular school day. Then it would take him and Michael about 60 minutes, sometimes more, to go through the questions.
I started by having James write out the answers to the questions. I quickly saw the error of my ways. So much was lost because writing such extensive answers for a sixth grader required so much work. It was much easier and a lot more valuable for him to discuss the questions orally in a conversational format.
I tried very hard to be involved in this learning experience. I have often heard the merits of Mere Christianity and was excited to finally have a excuse to read it. I did begin to read it, but this is not the season of my life for this type of reading. I know it may sound pathetic, but with caring for little ones, homeschooling, homemaking, and running a homeschool academy, I could not carve out the time for this simple pleasure. After the preface and chapter 1, Michael and James took on this endeavor as a father-son journey.
But that's okay. It was just one more way that Michael could be involved in the homeschooling and I promote this product as such. Father-son, mother-daughter, or any of the combination above. When the kids all get older, it might be something that I will just have the older boys do. I can totally see them all reading the text, then heading out on a backpacking trip with the journal to complete it together. Like I mentioned above, it is adaptable to any and all learning situations.
Since Michael completed the majority of the journal with James, I thought it only fair to include his thoughts on the product here:
"My  11 year old son and I did this together, and I was excited about the opportunity to revisit Mere Christianity, a book I read in college.  At the same time, I was concerned that the book would be over his head given that most people encounter it in high school or later.  But, the introduction to the Mere Christianity Journal does a good job of addressing such concerns:  yes, some of this will be over their heads, and parents may want to skip certain sections depending on where their kids are (e.g. when he gets into the ethics of sexuality); yet, the basic argument Lewis makes is accessible to pre-teens.  So, while I would probably recommend most parents save this book and journal for the teen years, an intellectually-gifted and motivated 10-12 year old would do well with this.
Mere Christianity is divided into short chapters (about 5 pages) that nicely divide up his argument into steps.  Further, he uses helpful examples, and often summarizes the argument he is making.
  The journal itself provides study questions that help the reader address each point Lewis makes, and this lead to good discussion between my son and myself.  To me this was the most rewarding part:  going over the study questions with my son led to wonderful discussions and made me confident that this activity was driving home for him what Lewis is trying to do.  Given how important it is for children to be able to defend the reasonableness of Christianity in the broader secular culture, this is an important book for them."
I was a little worried at first because the book was a little hard to understand and writing the answers to the questions took a long time. But it was a lot easier to understand when Papa and I started to talk about the questions instead. I am excited because we are going to continue this book and journal even though the review period is over.
Mere Christianity: Critical Analysis Journal is available on the Home School Adventure Co. website for $28.95 printed or $18.95 digital format. At the time of this posting, Home School Adventure Co. is offering a special discount for my readers:
Home School Adventure Co.
Until May 15, 2014, receive 10% off any download order by entering code: CREW-10 at checkout!
Interested in ordering but wondering what awesome product would best fit your needs? Other reviewers over at The Schoolhouse Review Crew looked at several products by Home School Adventure Co. Click here to read those reviews or click the banner below: 
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Eggs

Product Review: Iesodo DVD Productions

Believe EpisodeLove EpisodeFaith Episode
We don't watch a lot of movies around here, and the kids rarely sit down and watch the same movie as an entire family. There are many reasons for this, but one of the reason is that there is such a large span of ages in my house that it is hard to find a movie that would interest both a twelve-year old and a three-year old. When I was contacted about receiving a new faith-based DVD series for free in exchange for an honest review on this blog, I thought I would give it a try to see if it was one of those movies that could be a family fun flick.
Iesodo is pronounced "Ya-Sa-Do" and means "the way of Jesus." This series tells the story of Jesus using animated animals, mainly birds. Animated birds were made popular with my kids recently in a blockbuster hit viewed in my brother's home theater. That and the fact that there were many well-known people voicing the birds sparked my interest as well.
I received two DVD's to review: Love and Faith. Both are available at Walmart, Amazon, and Christian retail stores for around $14.99. At the time of this blog post, amazon is offering them for between $7.50 and $9.49. 
The movies are very well-done and unlike other faith-based productions, they are not "in your face" with religious messages. Frequent readers of this blog remember that I am not one to promote products that are "over the top" with messages of God's love and salvation for us. These movies aren't like that at all. They are the perfect mix of religious message, and fun family humor. Interested in viewing a movie trailer? Click here to see one.
The animation is incredible and that mixed with the humor and wholesome message won approval for these movies for my kids. There are so many little details that just add so much depth to the movie. Each main bird is a significant type and has an important background. For example, one bird named Barry is a Hoopoe, the national bird of Israel and is all about tradition. You can read about all the main bird characters here.
Overall, I thought that these movies are a definite positive addition to our movie library, especially for the younger kids. James and Isaac (ages 12 and 10 respectively) enjoyed the movies, but I really don't see them asking to watch these again. The are at an age where they are less interested in animated movies and would rather watch a sports event or read. Animated movies just don't spark and keep their interest the way they do with the younger ones. Henry (age eight) laughed so hard I would be surprised if he doesn't re-watch the movies on our next car trip. Margaret (age six) LOVED the girl birds (are you really that surprised), so I know she'll be re-watching them. And just yesterday when we mentioned watching a movie Malcolm (three) got all excited and assumed we were watching these again.
It doesn't so much matter to me that the younger kids want to re-watch them because of the humor, the pretty girl birds, or just because they are movie junkies and will literally watch anything. Kids imitate what they view, and it's just fine with me if they are imitating the values of kindness, charity, and friendship they see in these DVDs. So much better than some of the values other "kids" movies portray.
Disclaimer: I received two free IESODO DVDs in exchange for an honest review on this blog. I received no other compensation.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Season Has Started

Soccer has started again. And with it comes a barge of schedule conflicts, forced organization, meals on the go, and driving all over Western PA for games. One kid goes East, the other needs to go West. Hubby and I are like partners in a covert secret mission. We convey important information in rushed and often low tones as we fist bump each other in the entry room. Car seats are switched in cars for The Littles who are really just along for the ride. And the M & M's we use to bribe their behavior on long game days.

I know some families who just say no to team sports because of the picture I painted above. Families who rave about family sports where everyone, regardless of age and ability, can play together at the same time. Oh! The fairy tale it puts in my mind of a life without the rushed meals and missing practice jerseys. Happiness and peace.

It wouldn't work for us.

No really, it wouldn't.

My older boys need their own thing. They need something that they experience that is independent and separate from the rest of the family, mainly from close-in-age-siblings. Sure, they play the same sport, but the divisions are as different as grape jelly and a car tire. Common, but separate experiences.

They need a place where when there is a story to tell, no one else interrupts to tell the best part. Only they know the outcome.

They need a place where when the game goes extremely well, it is their victory alone that fills our house with excitement. Something they contributed to that we were witness to, but had no part of.

We are still close enough that when things take a turn, like a team mate says, "You suck," they are forced to handle it at that moment on their own, but we are there to talk it over. And to talk about how our own remarks and actions towards others can be hurtful.

Sometimes the game or practice isn't a happy ending. And that's okay. Life is not always about happy endings.

Sometimes you don't make the team with all your friends and that's upsetting. But you make new friends and decide you like the new team more.

Sometimes the team plays poorly and although you won in a shut out last week, this week the other team wins in an embarrassing shut out. And they played dirty with lots of pushes and trips. Hey, not all of life's paths will be green and grassy. Suck it up and get ready for the next game. But if I see you "playing dirty" you will be watching the game from the side lines.

Sometimes even when your team wins 14 to 1, it was you in the goal who let that goal pass and you who took the hurtful comments. Remember, a soccer team is just that: a team. You may have been in the goal box, but it was your team that let the ball get down the field. And look at how many you saved, including the one that bounced off your face before you tackled it.

So although we don't participate in family sports, we still participate as a family in the sports that the kids play. Team sports are a good place for my boys to have limited exposure to the "real world." We protect them and encourage them, build them up when they fall, but sometimes we have to let them a little out of our reach while we still have the ability to pull them close again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Quick Takes/ 5 Random

The Pebble Pond
Want to be inspired? How about a cookbook designed to teach kids how to cook pork?

Tomorrow night is the monthly dance that James goes to with all his pals. Every month is a different theme and tomorrow night is Super Heroes and Super Villains. So what is James going as, you ask?
Spock. James is going as Spock. Because that's how awesome he is.
Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? We attended a poetry event yesterday at the Nature Reserve. It was really well done and the kids had a blast. An added bonus is that the weather was absolutely beautiful.
Learning about Haiku's.

Being inspired by pond life.
Sitting at the Nature Reserve made me realize what a gem of an area we live in. And how little I take advantage of places as awesome as these.
At the Nature Reserve other moms were discussing the summer camp possibilities and signing kids up and stuff. I am so torn about summer camps. I like the idea of my kids getting this totally unique and condensed exposure to a particular thing, but I really like having NOTHING on my schedule for large chunks of time in the summer. We are already planning a drama camp for the older two boys in July, and a shooting/archery camp for maybe all three boys in June. Right there that is two weeks of the summer. Plus, I heard about this fun reading camp that I was thinking about for Margaret. And I am sure there are some Lego adventure camps going on and there is a week-long camp all about the Percy Jackson books, which all my kids adore.
I'm so torn. What do other folks do about summer stuff?
Check out more Quick Takes and Random thoughts!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Malcom's Birthday Party

We had a little party to celebrate Malcolm's third birthday. Allison made the cake, and we made all the kids participate in games designed to make a very special three-year old happy.
First, we made all the kids color a train picture to make into a Birthday Train Book for the birthday boy.

Malcolm shows off his picture.
Toss the Coal in the Hole game. At one point someone was told they were going to get some "coal in their hole." Hmm. Kid humor.

Thomas memory game

Opening presents

This gift was a hit!
Cake Time!

The best part of the day was that when ever anyone said "Happy Birthday" to Malcolm, he would joyfully return the greeting with "Happy Birthday!"