The Importance of Missions

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I spent the weekend a couple of weeks ago at our denomination’s annual Missionary Convention. I go most years as an elected delegate (meaning I have the right to vote for the new committee members), and this year was no different. I’d like to take some time today to talk about what the convention is like and some of the things I learned.

The Convention moves host churches each year; this year it was far enough away that we (there were a total of 7 from our church) had to stay overnight. It was about a 4 1/2 hour drive each way – our church “district” consists of the entire state. When we arrived, we were just in time for check in, which included picking up name badges, dinner tickets, and event programs, as well as getting the “lay of the land” since we were in a mostly unfamiliar church. Then we headed into the sanctuary for the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony was a time of worship music and welcome speeches from the district superintendent and district missions president. Then we headed into workshops, which is where a lot of the “real learning” of the convention takes place.

Because I’m the missions president in our local church (a new position for me, and one I’ll try to remember to talk about in the future), I had to use one of my workshop options (there are about 8-10 options, and each person gets to choose 2 to attend) to go to the Presidents’ Meeting. Here, we were told about all the new changes and focuses of the district’s view on missions. In the past, things have pretty all over the place, with most of that focus on fundraising. Now, there are only 5 things they want us to put most of our attention into:

  • Prayer
  • Actively engaging children and youth in missions
  • Connecting with specific missionaries assigned to our church by the district (called Links missionaries)
  • Giving to the World Evangelism Fund (a portion of the church’s total income, not a special offering)
  • Giving to the Alabaster fund (for building churches and parsonages in areas where they’re needed)

I’m quite excited that the emphasis on money has been lowered a bit. My main frustration with being the trainee missions president over the past year is that we don’t do anything but fundraisers – a different one every month practically. Having new emphases on communicating with active missionaries and figuring out how to get kids and teens involved in missions will be a welcome change.

So that’s my big thing for the moment. 

Blessings,

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Touching Children’s Books (Kayla Jarmon review)

Last week, I reviewed a set of children’s books with a strong digital tie-in (the week before, too, now I think of it). Today, the books I want to tell you about are from author Kayla Jarmon and are “just” books – though my copies are electronic (that’s the only digital tie-in these books have). As a wife, mother, screenwriter, and director, telling stories is near and dear to her heart. As of the date of this posting, she has three books on her website (A Boy and His Dog, Dying is Part of this World, and Don’t Forget Me), and I’ll talk a bit about each of them. 

Discussion Book Series and A Boy and His Dog by Kayla Jarmon

A Boy and His Dog

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A991A3E0-00C3-4F00-BA73-7203A20FDB76This is a cute story with whimsical illustrations telling the story of the relationship a boy has with his best friend, his dog. It opens with them waking up together, giving each other a big “good morning” hug. Then they go about their day together, doing things such as eating breakfast, playing tug-of-war, and chasing squirrels. For each activity, the book shows how the boy goes about things and how the dog does it. For example, when they climb a tree, the boy helps the dog up, but the dog gets scared when his third paw leaves the ground, so he ends up just watching the boy climb. At the end of the day, once they’ve bathed to get clean from their busy day, the two go to bed together. The final pages of the story repeat the first pages – with the friends waking and hugging. I thought that was a really sweet way to wrap up the story.

I am definitely not a dog person (I truly can’t stand the creatures – my apologies for probably disagreeing with you on this), and I still enjoyed the book. It really shows a sweet relationship between “man and beast.” I also appreciated that the activities the pair do together were all fun, outdoors things – not a screen or digital device in sight.

The paperback edition is available for $14.99 on Amazon.

Don’t Forget Me

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This one was my favorite of the three. As book 1 of The Discussion Series, it’s designed to read to your kids and get them thinking about how life works and how God designed it all.

595205CC-B0AF-4891-A3A8-EED38801A37EThe book tells the story of an unborn baby and his conversations with God. It opens with conception, and how the new embryo is so comfortable in his new environment. At this, God speaks up and reminds the baby that He is there too, at which the baby is even more comforted and glad to have Him around. The conversations continue as the baby grows, and he and God talk about things like how much the baby likes the sounds of his mother (and later, father), what it feels like to grow, and what will happen when Baby leaves this room (Mom’s womb) for a new one (his nursery). Frequently along the way, God reminds Baby that He is always there. 

About two-thirds of the way through the book, the conversation shifts a bit as the baby is getting ready to be born. God reminds him that through this time of pain (because really, contractions can’t be comfortable for babies either), He is still there. And that the pain will be worth it in the end because Baby will get to meet his parents at long last. At the last moment before birth, God reminds Baby, “Don’t Forget me.” The final pages of the book are the parents telling the baby (while still in the hospital) about how God brought him to them and would he like to hear about God. The baby thinks, “Yes, please. I don’t want to forget Him.”

I’ve read this book a few different times during the course of the review period (including right now to refresh my memory as I write), and it makes me tear up a bit every single time. It is such a beautiful story, and I absolutely adore the theme of always remembering God and where we came from.

The paperback edition is available for $14.99 on Amazon.

Dying is Part of This World

8CCC8756-0837-4051-A9F4-9B8E95095107This is book 2 of Discussion Series, and a really good follow up to Don’t Forget Me. While the first book focuses on the beginning of life (conception and birth), this one is more about the end. It is written as a conversation between a child and her mother, with no other narration at all. After a trip to visit her grandfather, the child comes back sad, thinking about her mother dying after having watched the news report. In each chapter (the other two are picture books, but this one, despite being a similar page count, has chapters), the mother explains how death is simply a part of life. She’s very sympathetic to her daughter’s distress over the subject, but she still never backs down from the idea that it will happen, eventually. 

Each chapter is a different portion of their conversation, and it ranges from “we’ll see each other again in Heaven” to “if you (the child) die first, you’ll be too happy with Jesus to be sad about missing me” to how we get our parents (God gives them to us) and why we have to die (sin). At the end of the chapters are discussion questions to help spark a conversation between you and your child.

Overall, it’s a very well done book, and not one that I would feel even a moment’s hesitation in sharing with my children, especially if they’re dealing with a situation like this in real life (the death of a grandparent, for example). My kids aren’t, but I will keep this book in my “hip pocket” for such an occasion.

The paperback edition is available for $11.99 on Amazon.

I haven’t actually read any of these books to my kids yet, because I only have access to (password protected) online versions, and since we don’t have internet access at the house it’s just not really possible for me to read the to the boys at this time. Even just reading them to myself, though, I can absolutely recognize their good qualities and how each and every one of them would be a fantastic addition to any family’s library.

Blessings,

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Discussion Book Series and A Boy and His Dog {Kayla Jarmon Reviews}
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Books that are More than “Just” Books (Weigl Publishers review)

Weigl Publishers has lots of really neat books, and I’ve been able to review three of them over the past few weeks. I’ve been reading two of them to my little kids (I have digital copies, so that’s done by having downloaded the books to my iPad and saving them to the iBooks app) and exploring the third one on my own. The books are:

  • Glaciers from the series “Earth’s Water” published under the imprint Lightbox and intended for a grades 3-6 interest range.
  • A Lion’s World, belonging to the“EyeDiscover” series, intended for a K-2 interest range.
  • There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed an Ant, a fiction title intended for a K-2 interest range.

You can probably tell from the suggested age ranges listed which two we’ve read together: Lion’s World and Cowpoke. Let’s start by talking about Lion’s World.

lion coverA Lion’s World is a simple book with lots of beautiful photographs of the large cats. Each page features a single fact about lions; this way it’s not too much for young children to digest (since it’s a nonfiction title). The facts listed are super easy to read and understand. Small Fry, my kindergartner, had no problem understanding what was going on in the book. Because it’s such an easy book, it would also be good for early readers to practice on their own. The words are big and most of them are easy, though very young children might need some help with a few of the longer ones or those with unusual letter groupings/sounds (“powerful” and “groups,” for example). Generally speaking, though, I think a 2nd grader (the upper range of the suggested age for this book) wouldn’t have any trouble reading it on his/her own.

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cowpoke coverMy little boys have absolutely adored listening to me read There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed an Ant to them. This story is based on the old nursery rhyme (song?) “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” It starts with the cowboy swallowing a fire ant, which obviously stings his insides and makes him very uncomfortable. He continues to swallow more and more desert creatures, trying to get rid of that pesky ant.

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This one is great for little kids because of the repetitive factor that is so popular with that group (with each additional animal swallowed, the list back to the ant is repeated). They love things that repeat so they can learn the rhythm and begin to join in on the story very easily. This was absolutely the case with Small Fry, who loved finishing up the stanza for me – he’d learned it before we even finished the very first read through. Unlike the old tale on which the story is based, the ending of this story has a fun little twist which really made my son cackle – the cowboy ends up swallowing himself because “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself!”

glaciers coverGlaciers is much more in-depth, and we honestly haven’t spent much time with it. The age range is higher, and I definitely agree with that recommendation. It would be really overwhelming for a young child because the amount of information presented is way beyond what a little kid could handle. For an older child, though, it might provide a good reference tool for a report or unit study on glaciers. The one thing I caution is that it refers to “glacier movements over time (millions of years).” If you believe in a young Earth – as my family does – this might not be the right book for you. However, if you don’t believe that, or are comfortable explaining the different opinions of Earth’s age to your children and being discerning, then it could work.

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How these books are “more than books”

I mentioned in the title of this post that these books aren’t just books, and yet I’ve described them as just that – (electronic) books. So what’s the “more”? Well, each book has a code at the beginning, and you can plug that code into a website for access to much more content. Let’s take a quick look at what’s available.

Lion and Cowpoke

Because these books are for younger children, the main feature is an audio reading of the book. In fact, this is the only thing in Cowpoke. Lion offers a bit more description at the beginning (“in this book, you will learn about…”) before diving into the reading.

Glaciers

Because this is a book for older students, there’s a lot more to the website than just a reading of the book. There are tons of audio, video, and activity options to do. There’s even a quiz for kids to do after having read the book to check for comprehension.

We didn’t use the websites really at all, except in my research for this review. Because we don’t have internet access at our house, it has been nearly impossible to get the kids to a place where they can use it, so we’ve been using the books on their own – and it’s fine, especially with the little kid books. But if you do have regular, easy internet access (and I know you probably do, since you’re here reading this), then these books and supplemental websites would offer a really neat option for your kids.

Blessings,

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Multimedia Digital Books {Weigl Publishers Reviews}
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Reading Biographies Together (YWAM review)

My older kids have always loved biographies. When they were early readers, that’s what they chose to read for fun most of the time. In fact, the first chapter book that Seahawk read on his own was called Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans. Will found it at an antique store for inexpensive, even though it was a first edition from 1805. Munchkin read it not long after Seahawk finished. Ever since then, both of them have been really fascinated by the lives of influential people. That’s why I always try to request one of the biographies from YWAM Publishing when they come up for review. Up to now, we’ve reviewed two books from their Christian Heroes: Then & Now series (CS Lewis and Jacob de Shazer); this time I requested Milton Hershey: More than Chocolate from the Heroes of History series. In addition to the book (written by Janet and Geoff Benge), we also were fortunate to receive the study guide in digital format.

Hershey coverMore than Chocolate tells the story of Milton Hershey, who – you guessed it – founded the Hershey chocolate company. It took him a long time to get to that point though, and the book starts well before the founding of the company. The opening chapter, as with all YWAM biographies (in our limited experience with them, anyway), is more like a prologue than a chapter. It tells a short, exciting story that will take place in more detail later in the book to get kids hooked. Chapter two goes back in time to where they want the biography to actually start. In the case of Hershey, this is to his childhood during the Civil War. The first scene is one wherein his uncles (mother’s brothers) come to where the family of three (his mother was pregnant at the time) back “home” because they thought his father was being irresponsible in his ventures to pan for gold while he had a family to take care of. Henry Hershey was given an ultimatum: he could come or stay, but either way his wife and son were going to be leaving.

In their new city, his parents argued over whether Milton should go to school or not. His mother thought no, because her desires for him were to be a “good Mennonite farmer, husband, and father,” none of which required much formal education. But his father had bigger plans, and he won the argument to send 5-year-old Milton to school.

From this point on, the chapters surrounding his childhood fall quickly, and by the time you get to Chapter 6, Hershey is already making and selling sweets. The book takes you the highs and lows of his career and personal life, including the renaming of his childhood hometown in Pennsylvania (the one the uncles moved them to) from Derry Church to Hershey.

ywam logoBecause YWAM biographies are written in such a personable way, they can often feel like fiction. This is good in that it helps to keep kids’ attention; it’s bad in that adults are left wondering “did things really happen this way?” For that reason, I appreciate that the authors include a bibliography at the end of each of their books. In the Jacob de Shazer book that we read last year, this included personal interviews with his wife and family besides the reference books. In the Hershey book, it’s a list of 5 other books that they used for research. Either way, it’s good to know that things aren’t being created for the sake of writing and selling books.

The digital study guide is really more of a unit study preparation plan for parents and teachers. In its 71 pages, there is so much you could do to make the biography a huge project for your kids! The first section is a list of quotes that relate to the book in one way or another. It’s suggested that these could be used for memorization, to spark conversations as you ask your children to describe how and why they apply to Hershey’s life, or to make a piece of art displaying the quote. I’d like to add that they could also be used for copy work.

ywam unit studyNext is ideas for making a large display that you continually add to as you read through the book. Part 3 is comprehension questions, which is the main part of the study guide that we used. I always have grand ambitions to do a complete unit study surrounding these biographies, but it rarely works out. The questions are good, though, since I read the book aloud to 3 of the boys (Seahawk, 14; Munchkin, 11; and Small Fry, 5) to help make sure they were paying attention. There are six questions for each chapter.

The Student Explorations chapter is the main “meat” of the study guide (if you’re doing more than just reading the book). It gives tons of ideas for turning the different aspects of Hershey’s life into larger learning opportunities, including essay questions/research topics, creative writing prompts, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, and arts and crafts. There are many options in each of the categories.

The next section is all about planning a field trip or “community event.” It tells you the best ways to go about doing so to make sure your student(s) are prepared to really take in the activities of the event. This leads perfectly into the chapter after it, which is the Social Studies chapter. This covers geography (the places that are significant in the book as well as places Hershey traveled), vocabulary, timeline, and conceptual questions.

Chapter 7 offers more themes to explore, which can easily become huge projects for older kids. The final chapter is the “culminating event,” where students share what they learned, either through speech and recitation or written works, with others. This can be as casual (inviting the homeschooled kids next door over for an hour or two) to formal (a huge dinner with grandparents and friends) as you’d like. The main point is to showcase that your kids did a lot of work and learned a lot of stuff through this study, and everyone wants to share in that accomplishment with them.

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed this biography on Milton Hershey. I highly recommend any of YWAM’s books. Besides getting a great, kid-friendly biography, you’re also supporting a good company with a good mission when you purchase. Books typically cost between $7.50 and $9.99 apiece, depending on where you buy them. I’ve never seen them more than $7.50 directly from YWAM, but they’re often full price somewhere like Amazon.

Blessings,

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Christian Heroes, Heroes of History & Study Guides {YWAM Publishing Reviews}
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Bringing the Bible to Life with Augmented Reality (Planet 316 review)

Bible storybooks are a great way to introduce the scriptures to young children. As our society becomes more and more technologically inclined, apps and programs come out that can be a distraction, though. Planet 316 and WorthyKids/Ideals have combined to create the Planet 316 Story Bible and the companion Planet 316 Story Bible App, a physical Bible storybook that works simultaneously with an app to create a super fun, “augmented reality” experience.

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The way it works is this: purchase your book (the cover price is $18.99, but when you click the “buy” link, it takes you to Amazon where you can get it for $14.96 as of the date of this post) and download the free app, which is available for both Android and Apple products. I downloaded it to both my iPhone and iPad, just so we’d have options in case one or the other wasn’t available (dead battery, for example). The first time you use the app, you’ll need to grant it access to your camera, otherwise it can’t “read” the images on the book’s pages. Once you have both, open the book and aim your device’s camera shutter at the picture. On the screen, you’ll see the Bible come to life! Parts of the pictures appear to literally jump off the page, music plays, and most of the time the characters even talk. It’s really neat.

E with bible storybookI used this with both Small Fry (5) and Dragonfly (2). It was our go-to bedtime story for a while. I would read the pages to them, then we’d do the augmented reality portion for that page. The kids would take turns tapping the characters (which is how you make them say their lines). Several of the stories run just one spread, but many of them take more than one also. In a single night, it was easy to read 4 or 5 stories without it seeming like too much for a bedtime story (not that there’s ever such a thing as too much scripture, but you know what I mean).

My kids have really loved this product. It combines two of their very favorite things: being read to and getting to use the iPad. I really enjoyed it too. The augmented reality technology is really fascinating, and it really helps to bring the stories to life for young children. Sometimes the characters’ words are quite comedic (for example, on the day he was created, Adam says, “It’s my birthday!”), but sometimes they’re somber enough for the mood of the story they’re in. Adding that little bit of life to the Bible really helps kids to be able to understand that those things actually happened, too. Even though they only speak a sentence or two at a time, something about having a voice besides Mom saying the words gives kids a sense of reality. One of the best features is that once you have the app downloaded, you don’t need internet in order to run it. All the stories are contained in the app itself, so if you find yourself unable to connect to internet for one reason or another, your Planet 316 Story Bible App will still work.

bible storybook coverAs much as we loved it, there are two things I would change. First of all, it was a bit difficult to get the iPad far enough away to be able to see the entire image (on the screen) and not be standing over the book. This is very likely a camera issue, not an app issue though. I just would love to have the option to zoom out. The second thing is that it can be quite difficult to run both the book and the app-running-device with just one person. It was okay for me (just okay, not great) because I was reading to Small Fry, who is old enough to help. But the book, being a brand-new hardcover book, didn’t like to stay open unless you (someone) were holding it. Having to do that while also aiming the camera at the book proved to be difficult most of the time. The Bible being available in a spiral-bound edition would eliminate this problem completely, and that would be a very good thing, I think.

Despite those two issues, they’re not enough to keep us from using this product. The kids love it, I think it’s really cool, and they’re getting a reasonable Biblical foundation from the stories. That’s what matters most of all.

Blessings,

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Planet 316 Story Bible and Bible App {Planet 316 Reviews}
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Printable Worksheets and Tests for All Grades (HelpTeaching.com review)

Do you have a student who thrives on worksheets? Do you need a resource from which to get tests for your child? Or would you prefer to write your own tests but not have to deal with the formatting in a word processor? Then HelpTeaching.com just might be the right fit for you. For the past few weeks, I’ve been able to review their Help Teaching Pro to do some of the things I just mentioned.

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My older kids have plenty of schoolwork to keep them busy, but for Small Fry (Kindergarten), I felt like we needed something more, which is why I asked to review this product. After looking over the website, I determined that there would be lots of options there for his age, and I was right. It’s been a true blessing to have these premade worksheets the past few weeks so all I have to do is print them out and teach him the concepts. HelpTeaching.com makes it so easy!

I initially expected that my son would be fairly slow going with the worksheets (since this would be his first experience with them), so in my first perusal of the website after getting my access code, I decided to print off 5 language arts worksheets and 5 math worksheets, figuring that would get us through one week of classes. Boy was I wrong! My 5-year-old loved these, and he burned through all of them on the very first day. So that night, I hopped back on the site and found more to get ready for him.

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This screenshot shows a sample section of the website so you can see how the worksheets are organized. Those with the lock icon are available only with a paid membership; those without can be accessed with just the free account from HelpTeaching.com.

The site is very organized, which I appreciated. I was easily able to narrow my search down to exactly what I wanted because all of the worksheets are arranged by both subject and grade. By choosing the “Kindergarten” age level, I was taken to a page with hundreds of choices in all of the major subjects. Because we already had a science curriculum we were working on together, I didn’t pay much attention to those, but I looked at nearly all of the options for both language arts (including things like word building, reading comprehension, and sight words plus many more) and math, and over the past few weeks Small Fry has done many of them.

The worksheets are listed by title, and when you click on the name of the worksheet it opens up a visual of the worksheet right in your web browser. From there, you have options to

  • Have your student complete the worksheet online
  • Print the worksheet straight from the website
  • Download a PDF of the worksheet to print from your PDF reader

worksheet exampleI opted for the last choice, just because I was able to control the print quality (black and white, ink saver mode, double sided when appropriate) better. Once the worksheets were printed, I put them all in a folder for safe keeping. I stored blank worksheets on the left and completed worksheets on the right. It hasn’t been a perfect solution (sometimes the folder gets misplaced, the completed worksheets don’t get put in at the end, and the math and English worksheets are all mixed together), but it’s generally been fine.

It seems that I’ve forgotten to take pictures of the worksheets that Small Fry has completed; I assure you, he’s done many of them. Please forgive this oversight and use the sample image at the left to see what kinds of worksheets are available.

So that’s how I used the site. But what about those tests I mentioned in my opening paragraph? Well, that’s easy too! Just click on the Test Maker button at the top of the page, and you’re taken to a page with lots of options. You can fill it in completely with your own questions, you can populate the test with questions exclusively from the HelpTeaching.com library, or you can mix and match. How cool is that?!

Overall, I’ve been very happy with our Help Teaching Pro membership. I will definitely continue to pull worksheets for my boy for the foreseeable future; it’s too good a resource to not use.

Blessings,

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Help Teaching Pro. {HelpTeaching.com Reviews}
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