Thursday, July 21, 2016

All Things Bright and Beautiful (Review and Giveaway)

This week, as part of our spelling curriculum, the kids have been using word from the Anglican hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Frances Alexander as part of the Schoolhouse Spelling for week 2.  So you can only imagine my surprise when Monday we received a wonderful book that illustrates the entire hymn in beautiful watercolor paintings.

All Things Bright and Beautiful is a gorgeous hardcovered book with illustrations by Katy Hudson, who many might be familiar with as she has written other popular children's books.  The picture follow three little children as they explore all of God's creations found while out on camping trip with their parents, along with the verses of the original hymn. 

The illustrations are gorgeous and you can tell they have been reproduced from canvas paintings. They are bright and colorful and filled with all sorts of images of nature, from a mountain stream to a starry night.  Children would easily be able to relate to the pictures in this book and picture themselves doing the same activities as the three children in the book, especially children who do nature studies or who's family spend even a small bit of time out in nature. 

Not only was the timing perfect because of the lesson we were currently working on but the kids were super thrilled when they realized that the three children were camping with their family out in nature as they are SUPER excited with the fact that we will be having our own camping adventure as we pitch a tent in Yosemite Natural Park next week.   When they saw that the parents were pitching a tent and they were camping out in the woods, the kids went wild talking about maybe the books setting was in Yosemite and that they could see owls, deer and wolves or find a small stream while on our trip next week. 

The book has been a hit in our house this week and I have ever found Ashleigh curled up in my bed reading it to her pet rat - Yes! You read that right, her pet rat. Hey, after all, All Creatures Great and Small....The Lord God Made Them All!!  (Excuse her hair, she hadn't been up for very long at this point..LOL) 

This is a wonderful children's book and will be a great book to pass on to my children's children later down the road as the message behind it and the way it illustrates it is so perfect.

And here's the great news.. One of my readers will win their own copy of All Things Bright and Beautiful for their own family.  I'm sure this book with be an instant favorite for your children as much as it has been for mine.  Giveaway is open to residents of US and Canada who have not won any other giveaway from Propeller/Flyby Promotions in the last 30 Days.  

Legal Stuff:  
'Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Beric The Briton (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

One of the greatest perks of homeschooling is that not all learning comes from a textbook.  Whether it's videos, virtual "field trips", living books or hands on, learning can be done utilizing so many different tools accessible to families.  One of my families favorite learning platforms would be the audio theater offered by Heirloom Audio Productions.  Heirloom Audio Productions recently released their 5th audio theater production, Beric the Briton, and we were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to review it.

Beric the Briton is based on the book by the same name by G.A. Henty and is part of Heirloom Audio Productions series "The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty".

What We Received:

I was given the opportunity to review the 2 CD performance of Beric The Briton presented in a visually stunning, full color trifold case.  I also received the accompanying Study Guide as well as the extras that included access to the MP3 download of the performance, an Ebook copy of Beric The Briton by G.A. Henty, Beric The Briton Soundtrack MP3 download, a printable cast poster, a printable poster containing an inspiration quote, access to the newsletter website and access to the documentary of behind the Scenes of producing Beric the Briton


If you've read any of my previous Heirloom Audio Production reviews, you'll already know that they are one of our absolute favorite companies.  As soon as the package arrived, we ripped it open and were completely blown away by the cover art - it's very striking and symbolic in so many ways, from the Lion representing both the Roman prosecution and execution of Christians as well as Christ himself, the army's clashing against each other and the Roman Colosseum looming ominously in the back ground.   Without a doubt, I do believe this is the best looking cover Heirloom Audio has done yet and I've thought all of them were very striking.

Heirloom Audio productions always tell a story of characters overcoming hard times and rising above them through their faith in the Lord.  Beric the Briton is much the same as it tells the tale of a young Briton named Beric who watches the fall of his queen to the Roman Empire. Beric is captured and placed in Gladiator school. After his friend Julius is given to the lions for his Christian beliefs, and act of bravery puts Beric into the good graces of Nero, the Roman Emperor, who then places Beric into a high position of honor.  However, Beric's own personal convictions leads him to conflict with Nero when a command he is given goes against his beliefs.  

This particular story came at a perfect time for us as the kids are currently learning about the history of Britain and we've been discussing the various invasions of Britain by the Roman Empire and how the Romans captured the conquered in order to have them fight for their entertainment. We also have been discussing about how Christians were prosecuted and killed for their beliefs both during the time of the Roman invasions but later in history during the times of Queen Mary.  It made it a really easy transition to go from what we had been learning in our books and then apply it to what we were hearing in Beric the Briton. 

As with every other Heirloom Audio Production, an all star cast and an amazing soundtrack by John Campbell leads to a 3 hour journey that engulfs you in the story. While the main characters are fictionalized, many of the supporting characters are integral parts of history, leaving the listener with an entertaining, action packed story seeped in history that educates the listener to the situations many Christians faced during that period of time. 

Once again, Brian Blessed (Star Wars, Tarzan)  returns to the sound room to voice our story teller, G.A. Henty. Other well known voices are Brian Cox (Braveheart) as Nero, John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, One Night with the King), Cathy Sara (Downton Abbey) and Tom Baker (Dr Who). 

As with every other Heirloom Audio Production, the purchase of either the physical CDs or the MP3 downloads come with the complementary full color, downloadable study guide and Discussion Starter Ebook. These study guides are always a welcome addition with the audio as they provide a good amount of information in the life and history behind the period of time the story takes place. The Study Guide is a wonderful addition as it allows me to ask the kids the questions as we progress through the CD's and check to see how much they are actually picking up from the recording. 

Time stamps are included at the top of each page in the study guide.  This makes it extremely easy for people like myself who prefer the convenience of  listening to the MP3 format on tablets, computers or phones to jump ahead quickly to find the proper track to match with the guide, as the MP3s are not divided into individual tracks. 

Included in the 49 page ebook Study Guide: 

Listening Well Questions:  These provide the perfect opportunity to test listening comprehension in regards to what your child has heard and remembers. All answers are easily found within the listed track. 

Thinking Further Questions:  These questions require a bit of independent research or deeper thinking beyond just what was heard.  These are great for older students as a platform for independent study on the various topics covered in the recording. 

Defining Words:  These provide vocabulary lists of words that were used in the recording that students might not be familiar with.  These words are easily found within a standard dictionary. 

Bible Study:  A three page study is also included.  Each page uses Bible verse to allow students to see what the Bible says in regards to The Importance of Studying History, Thou Shall Not Kill and that there is only One Way to God. 

The study guide ends with a few page that discuss the Significance of the Colosseum in Christianity, the site of the martyrdom of many Christians. 
In addition to the Audio production and the Study Guide, Heirloom is generous and also includes a downloadable full text version of the original G.A. Henty book that the recording is based off of.  This ebook is in the popular PDF format which can be read on most tablets, phones and computers and is published in full color with beautiful photographs as a backdrop for the story.  I always enjoy this extra as I can easily transfer it to my Kindle and read it at my own leisure.    It's also something I look forward to giving to the kids when they begin to read the Henty books on their own as I find it to be so much better than just reading the plain black and white text on a reader.  

We can't say enough how much we love Heirloom Audio Production as a family.  They provide a entertaining yet educational product that allows us to turn off the TV, pop some popcorn and just pile up in the living room and listen. I also love that it it engrosses the kids to the point that they ask questions, which tells me they are truely listening and trying to process what is going on with the story.   As far as Beric the Briton, we found it to be action packed and Charles even said that this is one of Heirlooms best.

#hsreviews #HeirloomAudio #BericTheBriton #LiveTheAdventure #BringingHentyBack #AudioAdventures

For more information about Beric the Briton as well as the other 5 Heirloom Audio Production Audio Theater selections, be sure to visit their website or any of the following social media platforms:

Beric The Briton FB Page

The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty series FB page

Heirloom Audio Productions social pages

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review

Monday, July 18, 2016

Things and Places That Make Me Feel Safe (52 Lists)

Week #28

So last week I jumped into the 52 List Blog Linkup that had me reflecting on all the hardships and life experiences that have made me who I am.  Self reflection is always difficult for me as it tends to make me focus on the many different ways those who were suppose to love and protect me instead turned their back on me and abandoned me.  However, this week is doing the exact opposite. Instead, I get to focus on those things that leave me feeling safe.  Even with all the chaos in today's world, these things always seem to help me feel safe, secure and loved.

Have a list of your own you'd like to link up?? Head over to Chasing Slow and link up your own list. 

52 lists with Chasing Slow

Things/Placed That Makes Me Feel Safe

1. My Husband
2. Cuddled in bed (preferably with #1) wrapped in the covers
3.  A hot bubble bath with a good book
4.  Reading God's Word
5. Running my fingers through the soft, warm fur of my cat and feeling her purring.
6. Out in Nature
7. Knowing I own and can operate a firearm.
8. Knowing I can change a flat tire on my car
9. The warm sunshine on my skin
10. Disney World

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Weekly Wrap up (7/11-7/15)

The kids are officially back in school and while we're considering the next 3 months a "Transitional" semester to finish wrapping up 2nd Grade material that we didn't complete yet (for example, our MathUSee Beta), I am going to go ahead and call them 3rd graders.  When we start full 3rd grade curriculum in October, then I guess they will officially be 3rd grade lol 

A few family members have asked why would we start back with school so early and not let the kids have a full summer vacation.  I look at it like this - it is currently in the triple digit temperatures outside every day and will be until probably the end of September. The kids can't even go outside and play comfortably until well after 7-8pm.  There's nothing fun about that for them.  It makes more sense to have them do school work rather than just allow them to play on their electronics or watch TV and instead enjoy breaks when the weather is much nicer during the daytime.  

Temps Like These Don't Make for a Fun Summer
I will be posting soon the entire curriculum that we're planning on using for the 2016-2017 school year.  We are going to be following the AmblesideOnline curriculum with a mix of Y1-Y3 curriculum.   I'm seriously wishing I had discovered AmblesideOnline two years ago but as I am late to the game, I'm trying to play a bit of "catch up", so to speak. Year 1 and 2 offer so much wonderful material that I just couldn't bring myself to allow the kids to miss out. As most of the Year 1 reading is pretty simple and quick, we will be combining it with Year 2 and 3 material in the hopes to eventually finish both and start a solid year 3. 

For the remainder of the month, the kids will be working on the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as their folk song.  The kids are having so much fun with this song and I have heard Ashleigh singing it to herself at night when she's suppose to be going to bed.  We're not working on a worship song this month because I want to devote a whole month to the songs we're learning so instead they have just been revisiting other songs we have already learned (Our God Is An Awesome God, Prayer, Drops in the Ocean). 

Garrett's Narration
Ashleigh's Narration
We have been reviewing the story of Adam and Eve by reading passages out of the book of Genesis.  The kids already know this story very well, both because of previous lessons as well as using Veritas Bible.  However, I learned something new when we did the notebooking page for the story of Adam and Eve. I do not remember the scriptures stating Adam and Eve had a two pet rats named Yuki and Nic (which just so happens to be the names of Ashleigh's pet rats).  I'll let it slide this time, as it is nice to see Ashleigh actually writing something imaginative instead of just copying what I have dictated to her.  Garrett stuck to a pretty basic Adam and Eve story for his notebooking in which he simply wrote "Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God said don't eat".  Garrett is a young man of very little words LOL

Both kids have been working on the cursive letter A this week.  Ashleigh had a bit of an advantage in this as she had previously done the New American Cursive workbook during a review last year.  However, I wanted Garrett to start learning to write in Cursive because I have read that it is easier for autistic kids over printing.  Garrett did really well with it and I hope that this is a good indicator as to how he will do with it long term. 

Garrett's Practice for Cursive Upper and Lowercase A
We distributed the various reading selections throughout the week.  For week 1 of AO Y1 we read the Aesop fables The Wolf and the Kid as well as the Tortoise and the Ducks.  We read the first chapter of An Island Story and learned about Albion and Brutus. We also read about The Sword of Damocles from the book Fifty Famous Stories Retold, How the Whale Got it's Throat from the book Just So Stories, and A Lesson of Faith from the book Parables from Nature.  Each day, we also read a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

The kids also started back up with their poetry memorization from IEW.  The last poem the kids had was The Vulture by Hilaire Belloc. After a quick review to make sure that they still remembered the previous poems, the kids picked up and started memorizing After the Party by William Wise. 

For our math assignment, we are continuing to use MathUSee Beta. This week we completed unit 16 which covers Thousands and Place Value Notation.  We also used CTC Math for extra practice with our column addition.  

For Geography, we are doing three different books:  Paddle to the Sea by Holling C Holling, Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason and Home Geography for Primary Grades by C.C. Long.   We covered simple directions such as Front, Back, Left and Right (which the kids already knew). Then we read the first two chapters of Paddle to the Sea.  In addition to the book, we are using a unit study and also the Google Lit Trip that goes along with the book.   We did a quick experiment that demonstrated how water travels from higher elevations to lower elevations (such as with the Great Lakes) using measuring cups at the kitchen sink, which the kids then also associated with waterfalls.  We also discussed how the sun melts snow and that the run off of the snow melt then runs to the river.   

Monkeys on Google Earth
As mentioned, we will be using a Google Lit Trip to map out the trip Paddle-to-the-Sea takes through the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic Ocean.  These Lit Trips use Google Earth and include route that is pre-mapped out for students that coincides with each chapter of the book.  This meant I had to install Google Earth on our computer.  Garrett has since discovered Google Earth and is absolutely addicted.  Every afternoon after school he spends hours finding things on the program.  He calls me to the computer almost constantly to show me railroad stations, Stonehenge, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Empire State Building. I had to laugh when he freaked out to find a Statue of Liberty and an Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.  Just a few minutes ago, while I was writing this, he called me to the computer as he had found a group of monkeys on a beach grooming each other. I can see many, many, many virtual field trips in our future. 

Where will he go next? Garrett's Google Earth Setup
We are currently working on a review for a foreign language program called Foreign Language for Kids by Kids and so each day, the kids have been watching a DVD that exposes them to immersion Spanish.  Currently we are watching the first video of the DVD which is called Basketballs Aren't For Breakfast.  Can I say now that we are absolutely LOVING this program??  I simply put the video on for them to watch while I made their lunch. Are they learning? Well, two days ago, Ashleigh told her dad she wanted him to go to the store and buy some pequenas manzanas (small apples) for her to have at desayuno (breakfast) because she said "Me gusta pequenas manzanas" (She likes small apples).. Yeah, I would say she's learning.  I do believe she's enjoying Spanish much more than she's liking Latin. 

Ashleigh identifies Peru on the map. 
In addition to learning Spanish, the video talks about a trip from Washington DC to Lima, Peru.  This gave us a great opportunity to find both locations on our map and discuss how the official language of most countries in South America is Spanish (with the exception of Brazil who's official language is Portuguese). We can now add Peru to counties we can identify in South America (they already knew Brazil, Chile and Argentina). 

We are still continuing with our Nature Study for 3rd Grade. In 2nd Grade, we completed the Burgess Animal book so we decided this year we would tackle the Burgess Bird book.  We worked through Chapter 1 this week which had us learning about the House Wren.  After reading the chapter, we did some research on the House Wren and the kids completed notebooking pages for the bird.  We are hoping as we start to learn and recognize each bird, we will be able to do some serious bird watching on our nature walk and identify these species in the wild. In addition to the Burgess Bird book, we are still notebooking the weather daily and we will be using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock which we will start with next week.  We are going to Yosemite National Forest in 9 days and are hoping to do quite a bit of nature study, bird watching, nature photography and notebooking/journaling while we are there as it will be a great opportunity for the kids to see something outside of the creatures we find in a desert habitat. has a wonderful spelling curriculum that we have used in the past and so we started the Schoolhouse Spelling Lower Elementary Charlotte Mason LE  List 2.  This week they worked on the words Shepherd, Lord, Shall, Lie, Besides, Waters, Green, Soul and Paths.  Part of the activities they did with their spelling list this week was to being learning to proofread and find mistakes.  

Garrett is still working with his Forbrain headset and his reading. It's amazing how much his confidence in his reading has grown because of the Forbrain headset. Reading use to involve LOTS of tears and cries of "I Can't".. Now, he finishes a passage and he gets really happy and explains "Mom, I can do it. I can read".  While he's currently still reading Level 1 books, I have a feeling we will be switching to Level 2 or possibly Level 3 before October.  

Finally, the kids are starting to learn how to do more things around the house.  This includes cooking and various chores.  This week, Garrett has been learning how to load and start the dishwasher properly.  (Next week, Ashleigh will learn).  

Overall, we had a really great first week.  Mom's got her own homework to do over the weekend as we received a new review item today as well as the Answers in Genesis All-In-One curriculum for The Pilgrims Progress so I will be having to get myself familiar with both of those and see how best to incorporate both into our schedule :) 

But thankfully, I have m planners all set up, including my trusty "Ugly Schedule"..

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

ABeCeDarian Interactive Workbooks (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

One of the worst things about having a son with special needs is that Garrett tends to be a bit delayed on certain skills. Reading is one of those things.  While Garrett makes leaps and bounds in his reading skills, he's still not at the level I would like him to be at (although, granted, far higher than where they originally told me he would be).  Lately, Garrett and I have been working with the online version of the Interactive A Workbook from ABeCeDarian Company in order to help improve his phonic awareness and word building.

The Level A Interactive Student Workbook is the digital version of their original
A1 and A2 workbooks combined together.  There is nothing to download as it is completely browser based and can be accessed with both Mac and Windows computers as well as most tablets and smartphones.  The program combines a series of world puzzles, spelling and reading chains as well as handwriting and spelling practice.  A Teacher's Manual in PDF format is available for free download or can be purchased if a physical copy is preferred.

The Workbook itself is a fully contained browser based application that does not require any downloading to your computer or tablet.  However, because it is not a download, this means that each time the application is accessed, it does take a bit of time for it to load up.  There is no indication during this load time that the application is loading and you are instead presented with a completely blacked out screen.  With our high speed internet connection, it took well over 2 minutes of staring at a black screen before the actual loading screen popped up and then another minute for that to finish loading and the workbook opens up.  This long black streen can be a bit discouraging to users who might think that the application is not loading up properly.

After 2 minutes of black screen you will see this loading  screen

One the workbook has been loaded, users are instructed to click the top corners of the screen to maneuver forward and backward between the pages.  We were using the Google Chrome browser with the workbook and we had no issues with any of the functions of the workbook. Garrett (who was the primary user of the workbook) was quickly able to figure out how to maneuver between the pages.

The workbook consists of 48 individual lessons. The application does not keep previous answers from past work and each time the workbook is loaded it gives a completely fresh copy of the workbook. However, a Table of Contents at the beginning of the application allows you to quickly return to any of the 48 lessons so that students do not have to re-visit the prior lessons in order to continue.

Designed for kindergarten and first grade students who are not reading or are just beginning to read, lesson consists of slides that consist multiple activities that help to build the students reading skill and phonic awareness.  These activities are interactive and students are required to move letters around to spell words, read words and sentences, or trace and write words on the screen. The lessons start very simple with words like MOP in lesson 1 and then progress with each lesson. Lessons take roughly 20-30 minutes to complete and target 6 common words in each as well as teaching students the valuable skill of "decoding", which is translating the print that they see to speech which leads to mastery in reading.

How We Used It and What We Thought

One of our Blooper Shots - Kenny Wanted to Play during Schooltime
Garrett was the primary user of the Interactive Workbook for the course of this review.  Garrett is slightly out of the grade level and reading level targeted by this application but we still found it very valuable for him.  He would use each day and would be able to finish a lesson twice a week (ABeCeDarian states that younger students in the targeted levels will usually complete a lesson in 7 days).

We were really fortunate that my laptop is a touch screen as it made things MUCH easier on the activities that required tracing/writing letters than trying to use the mouse.  This gave Garrett much more control over the letter and led to much more legible writing.

One thing I have to say is that this workbook seems to use the same format as another "Teach your Child to Read" format that we are currently using, which was a very big plus for us.  Again, while Garrett's reading level is slightly higher than Kindergarten/1st Grade, the reading portion gave him a very good refresher and provided easier passages for him to read to build his confidence.

This isn't a program that students can use independently and does require parental participation.  The Teacher's Manual provides multiple suggestions on how to use each activity slide to full capacity and can easily become a curriculum in itself for a younger student.

My only real criticism for this application is to maybe put some sort of loading screen in place of the black screen so that both student and parents know that the application is loading properly.  Nothing is more frustrating than to sit and wonder "is it or isn't it" and then stare at a black screen for 5 minutes only to realize that "it isn't".  Outside of that, this is a great program and I would suggest it for younger students, new readers and those who are struggling to read.

For more information about the ABeCeDarian Company and their products including the Interactive Workbooks, visit their website for find them on Facebook.

40 members of the Review Crew were given the opportunity to review the Digital Version of the Level A Interactive Student Workbook.  To read their reviews, click the banner below.

ABeCeDarian Interactive Reviews


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