Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Forgotten Christmas & Giving Tuesday

Watch the video below.  Can you find Jesus hidden among the giant inflatables, mall Santas, and Christmas trees?  Hmmm... is that what we do?  Do we HIDE the reason for the season?  Have we Forgotten Christmas?

Did you know after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday today has been dubbed Giving Tuesday?  You can visit the Forgotten Christmas  website and get involved.  You can purchase a gift that will truly change a life... a pair of chickens, Bibles, goats, sewing machines, water buffaloes, water filters, etc.    In partnering with Gospel for Asia, 100% of the donations go towards the poorest, Forgotten People of South Asia - the Dalits. 

Of course, don't limit yourself to Giving Tuesday.  Consider getting your whole church, small group, youth group, etc. involved.  A FREE Church Kit can be ordered.  It includes a poster, the video, and Christmas catalogs to distribute.  There are also additional videos on the website that can be show in your church. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Growing Up Wild

Missions is something important to our family.  Both my husband and I have had the opportunity to serve on mission teams and have traveled to Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ethiopia.  It is our desire for the whole family to be able to serve together in missions at some point, so we strive hard to provide our children with a global perspective, understanding of the Great Commission, and a desire to serve both the physical and spiritual needs of others.

The Growing Up Wild DVD series helps us to discuss missions with our children.  The videos introduce us to the Wild family who serve as missionaries in Papua, Indonesia.  It is the hope of the Wild family that each episode will not only educate children about present day missionary life but will raise up the next generation of workers for the field. 
While the suggested age range for viewers is 5-12, our whole family enjoyed the videos.  The DVD series could serve as a compliment to a homeschool and/or Sunday School curricula.  However, the uses really are endless.  You may consider showing the DVD's at your church during VBS, youth groups, summer programs, or special events.  Private and Christian schools could incorporate the videos into their school day.  Actually any setting where the audience could benefit from seeing the ins-and-outs of modern day missionaries would be perfect.

We recently reviewed Volume 1 and Volume 4 in the Growing Up Wild Series.  They were a hit with my kiddos.  They enjoyed learning about "a day in the life" of a missionary kid.  
Photobucket      Photobucket
In Volume 1, viewers learn how a home is constructed, see some of the creatures of the night, find out how supplies are obtained, and discover how natural resources serve the Wild brothers in daily life.  Volume 4 introduces native wildlife, war and hunting, cultural life, and a tribal calling.  The videos were informational, educational, entertaining, and inspiring.

Each volume contains three 15 minute episodes - perfect for my littles attention span. The short length allowed plenty of time for us to have discussions and complete follow-up activities. Accompanying each volume, there is a CD activity guide included. This guide offers families extension ideas designed to assist them in connecting with the Wild family, learning more about the world they live in, and challenging them to think globally. Click here to view a sample of the activity guide.

One of the activities we spent a considerable amount of time on was exploring different housing designs.  We noticed different types of houses as we drove around town, but we also explored the houses constructed in other cultures and areas of the world.  We pulled up pictures from our time in Ethiopia.  While we were unable to travel to Jeremiah and Rachel's village, we did venture out of the capital city and head south.  We were able to photograph homes that would have been similar to those they would have lived in.  Jeremiah still has memories of his first home and was able to talk about the sleeping arrangements, cook house, and some of the construction materials. 
The kids also made encouragement and thank you cards to send to missionaries we support.  Rachel was in charge of the outside cover design.  The boys (with some spelling help from Mom) wrote the letters to be glued inside.  Below are Caleb's sweet words.
The Growing Up Wild collection would be a great addition to any homeschool.  Each of the volumes retails for $18.99 + Shipping & Handling.  The entire 5 DVD Series can be purchased at a 15% discount for $80.99 + Shipping & Handling.

I know our family enjoyed getting to know the Wild Brothers and getting a glimpse into their lives in Papua, Indonesia.  We pray for their continued ministry.  I would encourage you to get to know them as well!  Other crew members are blogging about their experiences with Growing Up Wild.  Read by clicking the button below. 

Disclaimer:  I was provided Growing Up Wild Volumes 1 & 4 in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, November 12, 2012

IEW's Primary Arts of Language - (review)

If you are in a homeschooling circle for any length of time at all, you will most assuredly here parents of older children raving about the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  Founder, Andrew Pudewa, is an excellent, well-respected speaker and an expert when it comes to teaching students to write.  Well, did you know that IEW doesn't just cater to middle and high school students?  In fact, there is a program designed specifically for K-2nd grade students - Primary Arts of Language.

To be completely honest, I was first introduced to the Primary Arts of Language program at a state homeschool convention a couple years ago.  It was one of those events where you visited all the exhibitors in the vendor hall, had them sign off on your sheet of paper, entered the completed form in a drawing, and hoped to win a great prize.  Like most people, I was excited when the person working the booth would quickly give me a signature and I could be on my merry way.  Well, not the IEW booth, the lady was determined to give me an overview of the PAL program.  I remember snubbing my nose at the whole system and walking away saying, "Yeah right... some homemade, crayon-colored file folder games and farm animals are going to teach my kids to read.  Ha!"
Now I stand corrected, and I've completely changed my tune.  Having had the opportunity to review and use the entire PAL program with my kiddos over the past month, I can't say anything bad about it.  Actually, it will take great restraint not to write a ridiculously long blogpost and gush profusely about the wonderful product.  I'm going to hit the highlights and share some of my favorite aspects, but to best understand and get a feel for the program, I suggest you watch a PAL introductory webinar led by the program author, Jill Pike.  I've also posted a video below with Andrew Pudewa presenting a 12.5 minute overview of the program.   

Primary Arts of Language is a comprehensive reading and writing program based upon Anna Ingham's Blended Sight-Sound Program of Learning.  The reading portion of the program uses both phonics and whole words and the writing portion includes printing, copy work, composition, and spelling.  Using PAL Reading and PAL Writing concurrently, you will have everything you need to ensure your K-2nd grade children are reading and writing enthusiastically, confidently, and with excellence. 
PAL Reading Complete Package ($69) includes
Primary Arts of Language: Reading Teacher’s Manual
Primary Arts of Language: Reading DVD-ROM
  • Instructional Video by Jill Pike
  • The Four Language Arts MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • Nurturing Competent Communicators MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
  • Poetry as an Integrator MP3 Audio by Anna Ingham
  • Intro to the Blended Sound Sight Program MP3 Audio by Anna Ingham
  • Primary Arts of Language: Reading Student Book (e-book
Primary Arts of Language: Phonetic Games
Primary Arts of Language: Phonetic Farm folder with Stickers
(If each item was purchased separately, the cost would be $98.)

PAL Writing Complete Package ($89) includes:
  • Primary Arts of Language: Writing Teacher’s Manual
  • Primary Arts of Language: Writing DVD-ROM

    • Instructional Video by Jill Pike
    • Reading Comprehension MP3 Audio by Adam Andrews
    • Dictation, Narration, and Public Speaking MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
    • The Four Language Arts MP3 Audio by Andrew Pudewa
    • Primary Arts of Language: Writing Student Books (e-book
    • All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit
    • All About Spelling Level 1 (Teacher’s Manual and One Student Material Packet) By Marie Rippel
    • Bonus e-audio downloads:
    • Units 1 & 2 in the K–2 Classroom MP3 Audio by Shirley George
    • Unit 3 in the K–2 Classroom MP3 Audio by Shirley George
    • Preparing the K-2 Writing Environment MP3 Audio by Richelle Palmer
    (If each item was purchased separately, the cost would be $113.)
    I definitely recommend purchasing both the reading and writing complete packages.  When the box of goodies arrives on your doorstep and you open it, prepare to be a bit overwhelmed.  There is definitely a lot to take in, but you are not left high and dry to fend for yourself.  Most definitely, the very first thing you want to do is get comfy, grab your teacher's manuals, and pop in the DVDs.  Jill Pike leads you step by step through both the reading and writing programs and gives very thorough explanations of all the materials and how to use them.  Do not skip this very important step.  It is the key to starting off with success.
    When using the programs in tandem, the schedule for a typical day is as follows:
    Poetry - Read the same poem for several lessons highlighting different letters, phonograms, punctuation, etc.
    Class Journal - 2-3 sentences written in a notebook.  Using a calendar, focus on writing the date.
    Printing & Copywork - Letter Stories and printing practice.
    Story Summary - Read a short story and identify the elements.
    Foundations & Reader Words - file folder games and sight word practice
    Phonetic Farm Tour - stickers on a farm scene to reinforce sounds/phonograms learned
    Agenda/Work Period - worksheets based on the lesson of the day
    Read Words/Sentences/Informal Spelling Test
    I have actually been using this program with all three kiddos, but as expected, they are all on different levels.  Rachel is still working hard to recognize letters and master basic sounds.  She continues to struggle, so for her I'd definitely say that the letter stories have made a huge impact.  The stories are cute and memorable, thus, she now has a trick to help her recall not only the sound of the letter but how to correctly write it.  Because of the letter stories, both her accuracy and retention have improved. 
    Whereas Rachel is actually taking multiple days to complete one lesson, Jeremiah and Caleb have been able to blaze through the first portion of the program.  While they have both known their letters and sounds for quite some time and been able to write them from dictation, I didn't entirely leap over the early lessons.  There were some sight words that they were unfamiliar with, so we did run through those quickly and focused mainly on the file folder games for quick reviews.  
    I must say... the file folder games took the most prep work in the program.  You can make the first ones and get started with the program and continue to create them as you go.  However, I found it easier to spend a couple hours coloring, cutting, and assembling them all at once.  Even though early on the games were rather easy for the boys, they still enjoyed playing... especially feeding MUGS and the MONSTER.  The other great thing about the games is that the boys are willing participants when it is time for Rachel to play.  Therefore, she is more motivated because she feels as if she is truly "playing with them" and "holding her own" as opposed to being bossed around and told what to do.
    I think the boys really benefited from the class journal component of the program.  Jeremiah became much more aware of the way a calendar operates and the passing of time.  Caleb paid more attention to punctuation and grammar.  In our early lessons, I did all of the journal writing.  However, a couple weeks in, I was able to turn the pen over to the boys to write the words they knew and punctuate their sentences correctly.
    Likewise, reading the stories together and focusing on analyzing the characters and story elements has been a fantastic addition to our homeschooling day.  In the beginning, stories are provided in the teacher's manual.  Then, you are able to incorporate literature of your own.  Even outside of our time working with PAL, the kids are identifying the "clincher" in our read-alouds.  I love when there is carry-over and follow-through in the course of any given day.  That's how you know a curriculum is effective!
    Finally, the writing portion of PAL utilizes All About Spelling.  This is the spelling curriculum the boys have been using this year, so they were already familiar with and ahead in this area.  They are definite fans of and benefit from the very tactile aspects of this program.  The moving of the chips and the letter tiles on the magnetic whiteboard appeal to their learning styles.  I was glad to see that PAL sees the value of this program as well.
    Overall, I'm truly impressed with the Primary Arts of Language program.  I definitely plan to continue using it with all three kiddos.  Since it is such a gem, I expect to hold on to it to use with our new little one to come when she is ready.  It is an excellent, well-designed, engaging program that produces tangible results as I've seen in just a short amount of time.  Other crew members are seeing similar results.  Read their reviews by clicking the button below. 

    Disclaimer:  I was provided both PAL Reading and PAL Writing in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.   

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Switch & Spin Magnetic Gear Board Giveaway

    Remember my post earlier this week about the Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List & Giveaway???  I hope you have liked their Facebook page and have been entering to win the daily giveaway item.  Keep visiting because a new toy will be given away each day until Nov. 25th.

    Now, as I eluded to earlier in the week, I'm hosting a GIVEAWAY right here too :-)  The Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty Item that I have the privilege of giving to one of my wonderful reasons would be a terrific Christmas gift for the little one on your list.  Check out the Switch & Spin Magnetic Gear Board!

    Switch & Spin Magnetic Gear Board
    A unique spin on magnetic toys, Switch & Spin Magnetic Gear Board lets kids build their own toy! Simply choose a picture template from 10 unique designs and place it in the wooden frame. Then add the gears in the color-coded spaces to turn each picture into an amazing kid-powered machine! Or remove the templates to reveal the white magnetic surface - perfect for an open-ended exploration of simple mechanics, or a range of counting, adding, and problem-solving activities (instructions included). This sturdy, durable gears toy includes a magnetic board with wooden frame, eight magnetic pegs, eight colorful gears, and five double-sided, color-coded design templates.
    Dimensions: 15" x 11" x 2"
    Recommended Ages: 2+ years



    3 years ago today, we got the first glimpse of our precious kiddos!  On November 10, 2009 - Jeremiah and Rachel became known to us.  Just as we experienced tremendous joy that day, they continue to bring great joy to us each and everyday.  We are so blessed to be a family!!!!

    An excerpt I previously wrote about this picture:
    We have a 4 ½ year old boy who is so very handsome. He seems so solemn and as someone else said wise beyond his years. His arm is protectively around his darling 3 year old little sister who has the most captivating eyes I’ve ever seen. It was as if she was looking at us inquisitively asking, “Are you going to be my Mommy and Daddy?” We were beyond thrilled to look at their pictures, read their profiles, and medical reports. We knew these were the children God had chosen for us! 

    In the adoption process, the referral is one of the most exciting things, and it was no different for us. We know God's hand was involved in every aspect of our adoption, and it is definitely evidenced by the circumstances surrounding our referral. When you have a few minutes, go read all the details of our referral story. You may want a tissue close by. I just re-read it myself and have a few tears trickling. Thank God for our marvelous story - as with all adoptions it is HIS story!

    Prayer - Dear God, I pray for all those adoptive families currently waiting for referrals.  In many cases, the timelines are lengthening and the waits getting harder.  Give the parents-to-be peace and comfort in knowing that Your timing is always perfect!  You who know their deepest desires also KNOW and LOVE their beautiful, CHOSEN children.  ~Amen.

    Thursday, November 8, 2012

    Where's the Greatest Need?

    When you adopt internationally, undoubtedly, you will be asked one of two questions... probably both.  There will be some variance of the ever-popular "Why didn't you adopt from the U.S.?" Usually followed by a statement such as:  "There are kids here that need families." or "Shouldn't we take care of our "own" first?"  The other popular question is "Why Ethiopia?" (Insert any country you adopt from.)

    Over the years, I've had time to formulate answers to the questions, but I've also had increased opportunities to speak about adoption at seminars and workshops and serve as an associate for our adoption agency.  I'm hearing the question, "Where is the greatest need?" much more often now.  Honestly, I like this question a lot better.  I know the prospective adoptive parents are looking for me to pinpoint a particular adoption program, country, age range, special need etc.  However, that is not the answer I give.

    When asked, "Where is the greatest need?"  I always reply, "A need is a need!  Any child without unconditional love and a forever family is a great need!"  Therefore, I firmly support and advocate for all adoption.  Foster care, foster to adopt, relative adoption, domestic adoption, international adoption, sibling adoption, HIV+ adoption, special needs adoption, etc. - God sets the lonely in families through them all, and it has been an honor and privilege to journey alongside families that God has grown in all of these ways. What do we all have in common? We aren't super heroes or  rescuers.  We are nothing special.  By God's grace, we are entering into heartbreak, pain, and loss but are moving toward healing and redemption. We have all been touched by the great miracle of adoption and know that it is God who is truly Our Sustainer and Sovereign over all. 

    It is my belief that God simply leads individual families to pursue a specific type of adoption.  It is our job to be obedient to His will and direction.  For my family, international adoption is where we felt called.  We are so blessed by our Ethiopian cuties - Jeremiah & Rachel.  In the future, as we still plan to adopt again, we may be moved in another direction.  We know our hearts have been stirred, and we are listening.  Therefore, we must live constantly in communication with God.  What about you?  Will you be brave and courageous and venture to ask God what need He can use you to meet?

    Prayer - Dear God, Help us to be still and listen so that we may know your will.  Open our eyes to see all the needs around us, and lead us in how you would have us respond.  ~Amen. 

    Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List & Giveaway

    Here comes Santa Claus... Here comes Santa Claus... 
    Ready or not, Christmas is on it's way.  If you are anything like me, your "Shopping To-Do-List" has very few items crossed off.  Here's a suggestion for you...  let Melissa & Doug help!  They have published their Terrific Twenty List full of great finds for the children of all ages.  Creative, fun, educational, arts & crafts, girls and boys - Melissa & Doug have it covered!  For years, we have been enjoying these high quality toys in our home, and I must say we are huge fans.
    Well, as we speak, the Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty Giveaway is going on!!!  Between now and November 25th, a gift from the Terrific Twenty list will be given away each day. Be sure and visit the Melissa & Doug Facebook page daily and enter to win.  
    ***Also, stay tuned to this blog...  there may just be a Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List Item Giveaway in the near future.  Wink! Wink!***

    Sportin' His Specs

    Schoolwork had become more and more of a struggle for Jeremiah.  It just seemed to take him FOREVER to finish a math page.  Then, as we were working with flashcards, I noticed he kept inching closer and closer to the card while blinking and squinting.  Jon began seeing the same tactics used as he played video games or watched t.v.  So... off to the eye dr. we went with the assumption lil' man would be getting glasses.  Of course, he was convinced he could see fine and Mom was crazy!

    Mom was crazy alright.  Oh wow... Mother of the Year Award I will not be getting anytime soon.  My baby was blind as a bat.  Seriously, the kid couldn't see.  He was seeing outlines and shapes but missing fine details.  All were in awe at the strength of his prescription and that he had never complained before.  I suppose he hasn't known anything different.  Just makes me sad :(

    Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled at the idea of wearing glasses for fear that others would laugh, but he was very happy that he got to pick out exactly what he wanted - black and neon green glasses.  A couple hours after his exam and he had his specs.  Thanks to the encouragement of his siblings and lots of positive comments from family and Mommy's Facebook friends he's not as self-conscious about the new accessory for his face. 

    No shocker but Math went much smoother and quicker today!!!  He's also been cracking us up with his comments about his new found vision.  He seems to think things are bigger now... including Momma.  (Did he forget I've got a baby in my belly?)  Anyway, my apologies in advance if he discovers anything "new" about any of you when he really "sees" you.  Haha! 

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Activity Bags (review)


    "Where fun and education fit in the same bag."
    Activity Bags was founded by two homeschooling moms, Paula and Sherri.  Collectively, they have 11 children and understand the challenges of educating multiple ages at a time.  There is always the dilemma of what to do to occupy the youngers while working with the older students.  Thus, inspired the development of Activity Bags.  The first to be developed were preschool activities, but the product line has expanded now to include science, math, reading, and travel games.  

    When Caleb was preschool age, I actually purchased the Preschool Activities in a Bag e-book.  He completed several of the activities at home and even more with his babysitter.  They were short learning activities perfect for his attention span.  Now, my three kiddos are relatively close in age, so I don't have the need of occupying a younger.  However, I was still interested in the value of the learning games and gladly agreed to review the e-books Reading Games In a Bag and Math Games in a Bag.

    The e-books provide you will all the necessary information to assembly the games and store them in a Ziploc bag.  All of the needed supplies and materials are contained in the bag, so the child can literally grab and go.  Most of the items needed to fill the bags are things you'll already have lying around your house.  Any others are inexpensive and easy to find.  Therefore, this product really is a frugal find and accessible and usable by all. 

    While the e-books can be used just for an individual family, as I did, they are actually designed to be used in a swap group. What is a swap?  Simply, each person would make up 1, 10, 20, etc. (depending on the number of participants) bags of 1 activity.  Other moms would do the same for the remaining activities.  Then, once they are swapped. You have all the activities in the book.  While some of the books include a Coordinators Handbook to help organize the swap, the Reading and Math e-books do not.  No worries though because a FREE Coordinator Handbook can be downloaded from the website. 


    Reading Games In a Bag includes instructions for 20 reading games designed for new and beginning readers.  The e-book retails for $15.00, and you can view sample pages.  Some of the games require more than 1 player... that could be Mom, a sibling, a friend, etc.  Topics include:  letter/sound recognition, sight reading, beginning, middle, end, blends, etc.

    Math Games In a Bag includes instructions for 33 games developed for elementary students. The e-book retails for $15.00, and you can view sample pages. Most games are designed for 2 or more players.  Topics include: number recognition, computation, place value, money, time, etc.

    To learn more about Activity Bags, check out their Yahoo group. Also, if you would like to preview the products prior to purchase, you may join the email mailing list simply by visiting the website and taking a short survey. In return, you will receive a free Activity Bag Sampler. This is an excellent way to select which e-book would be of most interest and to ensure that activity bags will benefit your child before ever spending a dime. Finally, click the button below to read what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members are saying in regards to their experiences with Activity Bags

    Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary copies of the e-books Reading Games In a Bag and Math Games in a Bag in exchange for my honest opinion and review. 

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    8 Adoption Facts That Will Surprise You

    More than 1/3 of Americans have considered adoption, but no more than 2% have actually adopted.
    The question to ask is WHY???
    On this Orphan Sunday, if you are not called to adopt (and not all people are!), would you prayerfully consider what you may be able to do to raise the percentage of adopting families?  Statistically, we know there are those willing to adopt.  Help them do so by removing barriers.
    ***Host adoption/orphan care events so that the need is made known.
    ***Add adoption related books, videos, materials, etc. to your church library
    ***Offer prayer support for adopting families throughout the adoption journey.
    ***Financially support adopting families.
    ***Create an adoption-friendly culture within your church and children's ministries.
    ***Establish a support group for fostering and adopting families
    ***Offer education regarding transracial families, special needs & HIV+ adoption, R.A.D. and attachment/bonding issues, etc.
    ***Research and make a list of available resources to help adopting families:  grants, loans, attachment therapists, physical/occupational/speech therapists, support groups, etc.

    A fantastic resource to familiarize yourself with is the WRAPPING AROUND ADOPTIVE FAMILIES booklet.  This short read is a gem and wonderful guide to follow.  Read now!

    Many would-be adoptive families are often deterred from ever beginning the process for fear of what life may look like after bringing a child into their home.  Often if they have unsupportive family or friends, they feel isolated and alone.  Instead, the church needs to let both perspective and in the trenches adoptive families know that they are not alone!  The church will WRAP around them with prayer and practical help.  An easy way to remember the needs of adoptive families:
    W - wrestle in prayer
    R - respite
    A - acts of service
    P - promises of God 
    Prayer - Dear God, may Your CHURCH rise up, move, and act on behalf of the orphan.  Lead us in how you would have us support those considering and journeying through adoption.  Help us to better W.R.A.P. around adoptive families.  Amen.

    Saturday, November 3, 2012


    Tomorrow, Sunday, November 4th, internationally, churches will be participating in Orphan Sunday.  The goal is to unite the church to carry out God's mandate to care for the very least of these.  Through foster care, adoption, and global orphan care initiatives, we can all be involved in caring for orphans. 
    Is your church participating?  If not, check out the map to locate an event nearby to attend.  Or... consider talking to your church leadership about showing the short video above, holding a special prayer time, or reading Scripture that pertains to the care of and God's heart for orphans.  Possibly, spend some time in your Sunday School or Small Group brainstorming on ways you can collectively advocate for and serve the orphans in your community and globally.  There are many resources available on the Orphan Sunday website.  Whether you are holding an event tomorrow, desire to plan one for the future, or just want to spend some time to personally learn more, take advantage of this wealth of resources.  You'll find numerous videos, Bible studies, sermon outlines, songs, facts, materials, etc. 
    Prayer - Dear God, I thank you for all of the churches participating in Orphan Sunday, the staff and volunteers planning the events, and those that will be in attendance.  Father, I pray that you move mightily among your people.  Stir hearts and hands to action!  Amen.

    Friday, November 2, 2012

    Why Adopt?

    Many adoptive families get asked this question, and families considering ask it as well...  Why Adopt?  The answer varies from person to person.  In my case, the answer would have been different depending upon the time in my life you asked me.

    I knew in my early teens that I had a God-given desire to adopt children.  However, as a teenager, it was kind of my platform or my social justice issue.  I despised racism and hated the division between the preps, rednecks, and African Americans at my school.  Rebel flags irked me to no end, and I was determined to show people someday through my own family that "Red and Yellow, Black and White, They are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."

    Fast forward to my junior year of college.  Three weeks before his graduation, Jon and I begin dating.  Low and behold on our very first date, we talked about our individual desires to adopt children.  Yep... sealed the deal right then, and I married that man a couple years later.  Thus, my new answer to "Why Adopt?" was to build our family of course!  During the first year of our marriage, I started hinting at when would we start our family.  Jon got me a kitten.  A year later, the same discussion, and another kitten.  Year 3... no cats allowed!!!!  We began going to adoption conferences and seminars, but our ages seemed to be the big strike against us.  Oh well... God had other grand plans, and we were blessed with the birth of our wonderful baby boy.  Caleb Scott has been such a gift and a tremendous blessing in our lives.

    It didn't take long after Caleb was born for my subtle hints to become earnest pleas to start the adoption process.  Thus, began a difficult time.  I couldn't understand why both Jon and I shared God's heart for the orphan and desired to adopt but couldn't agree on the timeline.  I was ready to go, and Jon continued to say wait.  There were many tears cried!!! Jon was having his own wrestling match with God, and in my impatience and frustration, God was also working in my heart as well.  He was helping me to see what my answer should be when asked "Why Adopt?"

    I had to come to realize the spiritual aspect of adoption.  Adoption in its purest and simplest form is a reflection of what God has done for me.  Adoption is REDEMPTION!  It is being welcomed into a family and being loved unconditionally.  It is being given an inheritance and a name.  WOW!!!! 

    Adoption is where the broken and beautiful collide.  It is messy... it is amazing!  It is my story, and God is the Author.  I'm thankful that my loving Father adds new pages each day.  As the pen touches the page, I want the writing always to be able to say that I'm living out James 1:27 with boldness and zeal.

    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  ~ James 1:27
    Prayer - Dear God, Be with those who are both privately and publicly asking the question, "Why Adopt?"  Turn their hearts to you and open their eyes to your WORD.  Amen.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    November is Adoption Awareness Month

    It's no secret that adoption is near and dear to my heart.  Therefore, being that November is Adoption Awareness Month, I have decided to use my little space in the blogosphere to purposely share about adoption.  Throughout the month, I will share personal stories, but I also hope to point you in the direction of some wonderful resources.  Stick around... you may get a question answered, learn some new facts, or be introduced to a helpful book, poignant song, purposeful organization, dedicated ministry, or incredible event.  There is SOOOOO very much I desire to share!

    I'd also like to encourage you to join me in specific prayer each day.  I believe in the power of prayer and have confidence in my God who hears.  Take time this month not only to speak to God but to really listen intently to His voice. 

    Prayer - November 1st

    God, please break my heart for what breaks yours!

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    Beloved Books (review)


    Did you listen to audio books growing up?  I think I had a few children's books with accompanying records that made a funny, magical sound each time I was to turn the page.  Then, I believe, the times they changed.  My younger sister had books and tape cassettes that did the same.  Enter 2012...  surely with all the high tech goodies on the market my three littles wouldn't be interested in "listening to a story" on CD without even a book mind you.  WRONG!!!

    Beloved Books was created to share wholesome, life-affirming books and audio resources with Christian families.  Their collections include missionary stories, classic allegories, historical fiction, and beloved series.  My kiddos were totally enthralled and enamored with the Sugar Creek Gang Volume 1 CDs we had the opportunity to review.

    PhotobucketThe past month has found our family crammed in the van for many back and forth trips from TN to KY.  Depending on where we go, we log 3-3.5 hours one way.  That just so happened to be the perfect amount of time to listen to one complete story.  After the first story, the kids were hooked.  They were the ones that emphatically reminded me to grab the CDs when loading the van.  Oh we forgot necessities like pajamas and toothbrushes on occasion and the ever important DSi charger, but never the Sugar Creek Gang Volume 1 CDs.

    Produced by Moody Press, Volume 1 of the Sugar Creek Gang CDs includes 12 CDs with the following stories:
    • The Swamp Robber
    • The Killer Bear
    • The Winter Rescue
    • The Lost Campers
    • Chicago Adventure
    • The Secret Hideouts
    In each of these stories, written by Paul Hutchins beginning in 1939 and later dramatized by Paul Ramseyer, the kids were entertained by a gang of boys:  Bill Jenkins, Poetry, Dragonfly, Big Jim, Little Jim, and Circus.  These boys have great adventures including:  fishing, swimming, a robber, a bear, bullies, befriending an eccentric Old Man, great rescues, etc.  Amid all the action, the characters faith grows by leaps and bounds.  They openly share the love of Christ, pray for one another, pray for their enemies, lead others to Christ, and truly learn to follow Christ in their day to day lives.  These are definitely characters I want my children to be drawn to and emulate. 

    One caution... even though the CDs are very overtly Christian, have wonderful messages, inspiring characters, and important life lessons, I do encourage parents to listen along with their children.  Because we did our listening in the van, I was a captive audience as well.  Thankfully so, because my 6 and 7 year olds needed some things explained to them.  For example, they had no idea what an alcoholic was and couldn't understand the behaviors of Circus's or Tom Tilne's Dad.  We had several conversations following the introduction of those characters.  Also, being from the Independent Christian Church background, our theology doesn't align completely with the Sinner's Prayer, so we were able to discuss the plan of salvation on as well.

    I do recommend the Sugar Creek Gang series.  My children were great fans and they were definitely a God-send to us during our times of travel.  I appreciate their wholesome Christian stories, and I do foresee more listening in our future. 

    If you want to try out the first full story without buying a whole volume, you may purchase the complete "Swamp Robber" for only $4.95.  The Sugar Creek Gang Volume 1 CDs (12 CDs) are available for $54.95 with free media rate shipping. Volumes 2-6 also retail for $54.95.  Also, you may purchase the entire Sugar Creek Gang Collection (72 CDs) at a $50 savings for $279.70
    Don't just take my word... visit other Schoolhouse Review Crew Members by clicking the button below and read about their experiences. 

    Disclaimer:  I received Sugar Creek Gang Volume 1 CDs in exchange for my honest review. 

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Samson's Classroom (review)

    PhotobucketSamson's Classroom is an online educational program for K-5 students.  It uses games to teach students the three core building blocks of reading.  Your student will have access to Sight Words with Samson, Spelling with Samson, and Reading with Samson.  I would encourage you to watch the 3 minute demo video to best understand and get a feel for how the online program operates. 

    Important to note from the very beginning,  like so many other products in the cyber realm, you will not find your subscription out of date immediately upon purchase and installation.  Samson's Classroom is ever-expanding, improving, and growing. As new new product releases and upgrades are made, they are added to your package at no additional cost.  I appreciate this aspect of customer service!

    Designed with early readers in mind, Sight Words with Samson leads students in mastering 224 of the most commonly used words in our English language. This ensures a solid basis for the emerging reader.  For each set of sight words, a 5 step process is employed to assist children in learning the frequently used words.  First, the words are introduced and pronounced correctly; then, the child uses the words in a sentence.  Next, the words are spelled.  They are correctly identified, and finally the students are quizzed on the words. 

    Caleb actually spent the majority of his time working in the sight word area of Samson's Classroom.  His proficiency and fluency with these words greatly improved.  He thrived on the repeat and routine he found moving from lesson to lesson.  He was able to interact with each of the words repeatedly and truly committed them to memory.  I was pleased with his progression through this portion of the program.  To track his progress, the program uses a scoreboard.  Additionally, in the resource center parents can print out achievement certificates to recognize students when they complete each level or additional worksheets and flashcards if remediation or extra practice is warranted. 



    Many kids balk at spelling words... mine included!  Spelling with Samson is much more appealing than traditional drill and practice activities because it is games, games, games.  The short games draws from a vault of 7,000 + words.  However, the lists can be customized so that you have control over what words your child is focusing on and can coordinate with your current spelling curriculum.  You may also select from pre-designed lists. 


    Often online programs focus simply on the skills needed to learn to read but fail to give any attention to being able to recall, retain, and understand what is read.  I appreciate the Reading with Samson portion of Samson's Classroom because it stresses reading comprehension and logical analysis of passages.  Children are learning to infer and draw conclusions based on the text they have read. 

    A unique feature in this program takes place when a student answers a question incorrectly.  The relative and important information is highlighted within the passage so that the student may return to the text with a focal point.  The student is then given the opportunity to answer the question a second time.  In doing this a few times, the student should better grasp how to find information accurately within the passage and increase his success rate in responding to questions.  As with the other programs support is available to students through the available worksheets and lesson plans that parents are able to print from the resource center. 



    Samson's Classroom offers various pricing options.   A subscription for one user is $30 per year.  A family subscription for up to four users costs $50 per year.  Classroom and school subscriptions are also available. 

    Prior to purchase, I'd encourage you to have your children play the demo games.  There are examples for each of the three sections of the online program.  Even better, you don't have to set up an account to give them a try.  It's quick and easy!  I also recommend that you click the button below to read what other Schoolhouse Review Crew Members are saying about Samson's Classroom

    Disclaimer:  I was provided Samson's Classroom accounts for my children in exchange for my honest review. 

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    Crossbow Education (review)

    Crossbow Education is not only family owned and operated, but it is unashamedly Christian.  When asked "Why Crossbow?" they state, "We believe that the symbols of the Cross and the Rainbow stand for the most powerful, life-changing truths on this earth: broadly, "Jesus died in my place, (for my sins)", and "God keeps His promises."  I know I will gladly back a company with my money and support when I trust their beliefs, ethics, and worldview.
    In 1992, founder, Bob Hext, found that the games and tools he was developing for his dyslexic students were more beneficial and helpful in comparison to most anything else on the market.  He actually pioneered many of the things we now find common in children's games today.  In 2005, with the patent of The Eye Level Reading Ruler, the company became a leader in the area of support for those with visual stress.

    While The Eye Level Reading Ruler is designed specifically to benefit those with visual stress and dyslexia, I found that if was a helpful tool for my early readers as well.  My boys were able to track the text much more consistently and better keep their place when using this product.  Thus, their fluency improved.     
    The Eye Level Reading Ruler is made from a combination of opaque and transparent plastic.  It underlines the text and highlights it in a colored tint.  Broad strips are utilized when reading paragraphs and narrow strips for single lines. 
    So as not to call attention to the reader, The Eye Level Reading Ruler is small and discreet.  Being the size of a six-inch ruler, it is easy to transport and carry all the time.  This is wonderful for all readers whether emergent, struggling, dyslexic, or dealing with visual stress.
    The Eye Level Reading Ruler 10 - pack retails for $16.95.  Each ruler has one side that is matt coated and the other has a glossy finish allowing for the reader's individual preference.  A neat feature is that you are able to choose your own colors. One option is to select a multi-pack of the most popular colors or you can select from the following: yellow, celery, grass, jade, aqua, sky, purple, magenta, pink, and orange.  As far as my boys, Caleb preferred the grass and Jeremiah the aqua.   

    Click the button below to read other Crew members experiences with the eye level rulers.  However, please note that the eye level rulers are only one of the products available from Crossbow Education.  Visit the website to see their other offerings including:  sand timers, junior learning product, and games for phonics and spelling.

    Disclaimer:  I received a pack of eye level rulers in exchange for my honest review. 

    Tuesday, October 16, 2012

    Sellars Farm Nature Hike

    Moving mid-semester is hard... yes, even for homeschoolers!!!  Classes and co-ops have already formed and had meetings, and everyone is in a groove.  Therefore, in an attempt to "break-in" to the homeschooling community in our area, I've joined several yahoo groups.  I even posted an introduction of our family and asked for ways we could get connected.  Thankfully, several people responded, and thus, begins our quest to make some new homeschooling friends.

    Our first venture led us to join the An Atmosphere of Learning group for their October outing.  This group meets together once a month for nature study and a hike.  The usual meeting spot is the Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area.  It is home to a preserved and protected Native American mound.  There is a walking trail that leads through an open field, wooded areas, and along a creek. 

    Ranger Tyler began our time together sharing some of his recent finds...  a walking stick insect, a chipping sparrow nest, and the feet and wings of a great blue heron.  Afterwards, we set out on our trek.  Thankfully for this Momma, the hike was quite leisurely due to our very frequent stops to discover and discuss the flora and fauna.  Ranger Tyler was very knowledgeable and absolutely wonderful with the kids.  My three took an immediate liking to him.  Inquisitive Caleb bombarded him with questions... most on topic, but a few Star Wars tidbits slid in there :-)  All three gave him hugs when he left and look forward to seeing him again.


    Following our hike, we enjoyed a picnic and got to know some of the group a little better.  The kids interacted with the other kids and started making friends.  It really was great to be out and about with others and to enjoy some educational/social time. 

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    KinderBach (review)


    KinderBach uses a group of charming characters, The Piano Pals, to introduce young children to the piano keyboard.  In the process, kids ages 3-7 gain a basic knowledge of note reading, rhythm, singing, technique, and composition.  Even better, it all takes place in the non-threatening environment and comfort of your own home!

    Karri Gregory, author and founder of KinderBach, and the endearing Piano Pals teach piano pedagogy through online videos.  Currently, in the online program there are 6 levels each offering 10 weeks of lessons.  Each week is broken into 4 sessions for a total of 240 lesson segments. 


    The 6 levels total almost 22 hours of video.  On average the lessons are approximately 5 minutes in length.  This is perfect for the limited attention spans of young children.  It is also manageable to repeat the video a second or third time to reinforce the information, or view more than one video in a sitting if the lessons are easily completed by your child.  Being able to move at your own pace is one of the positives of this online video program. 

    As expected, the lessons begin with very basic information.  Kids are familiarized with the piano keyboard, taught to distinguish between high and low pitches, and experience steady beat.  Lesson continually progress to the point that children are reading simple scores and understand basic music theory. 


    To compliment the videos, each level has a printable PDF activity book.  You could download the entire book or choose to print out individual pages as needed.  Appealing to the young audience, it is not necessary for the children to be able to read in order to complete the worksheet.  Karri explains the activities during the sessions. 



    Online memberships are available to purchase and include:
    * Access to all web lessons by computer, iPad, Android Tablet, Kindle Fire or Nook.
    * Accompanying downloaded PDF activity pages
    Purchase options include:
    $7.99 a month - Billed in a one time annual payment of $95.88
    (Great Value! Save 60%)
    monthly subscription - Billed monthly for a year
    (12 separate payments)
    However, before buying, you may want to check out a few sample lessons.  You are also able to access the first 2 weeks of the program free AND there is a 30 day money back guarantee!  A new option is the KinderBack appThe first 2 lessons and 1 game are offered free. Lessons can be purchased individually through the app afterwards, or you can purchase the "Classroom KinderBach: School Version" for just $26.99.  Kinderbach is also sold in DVD form. Finally, Songbooks, Activity Packages and Value Packages are available for purchase.     Photobucket
    Having reviewed this product before, my 7 year old boys had little interest in participating.  So my newly 6 year old daughter was the one to use KinderBach.  Because I'm a firm believer in having children only work with true-to-size keyboards or pianos, we set up the laptop on our digital piano to view the lessons.  When completing the worksheets, she either used a clipboard or moved to the kitchen table.   I appreciate that KinderBach does not color, sticker, or number the piano keys.  Instead, one of the very first things a child learns is the groupings of either 2 or 3 black keys.  Then, they are taught to identify where the individual notes live on the keyboard through cute, clever stories featuring The Piano Pals.  Rachel found this memory aid extremely helpful as well as the available placement cards. 
    Having a degree in Music Education and having taught private piano students, my personal belief in regards to the optimal time to begin piano lessons occurs simultaneously with beginning reading.  For most children, this usually occurs at or near 6-7 years of age.  I also believe there is no substitute for a one-on-one, in-person lesson taught by an enthusiastic, knowledgeable teacher.  That being said... prior to individualized private study, I'm definitely in favor of exploratory, foundational group music classes.  I also would endorse the KinderBach online program as a solid introduction to the piano keyboard for young students.  While not a substitute for lessons, in my opinion, it would make a wonderful precursor to formal piano lessons.  It's perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners!

    Need more information?  Click the button below to read other Schoolhouse Review Crew members experiences with both the online program and the app.  The crew always shares such valuable and pertinent information in their reviews to help you make the best choices for your family.

     Disclaimer:  I received a free 6-month subscription to KinderBach in exhcange for an honest review.