Science for Littles (review)

It can be quite difficult to continue homeschooling through the summer months, especially if your kids are used to a “traditional” schedule where they get the time off, like mine. But products like Learning About Science Collection, Level 1 by WriteBonnieRose make it a lot easier. Small Fry (who just turned 6 a few weeks ago) and I have been learning all about plants and animals together using this science curriculum for lower-elementary kids this summer.

The Level 1 collection that we received (there are also levels 2 and 3 available, with level 3 having options for print or cursive) truly is a collection. It includes 7 different lessons, all for one price of $12. These lessons include:

  • Animal Habitats of the World
  • Familiar Plants and How They Grow
  • Fruits and Vegetables Around the World
  • Learning About Life Cycles
  • Our Senses and Systems and How They Work
  • Earth: Layers, Earthquakes, and Volcanoes
  • Exploring States of Matter

Because it’s gardening season, we chose to focus first on Familiar Plants. This e-book is 14 pages long (including a cover and copyright page) and a self-contained lesson. It opens with a basic lesson on what all plants have: stem, leaves, stamen, pistil, flower, fruit, seeds… I read the lesson parts aloud to Small Fry, who soaked up the information like a sponge – or a seed ;). If you print out the pages (I didn’t, just because our printer is in a location that’s not convenient for me to do any printing at this time), there are also words for your child to trace related to the lesson. Instead of working with a printout, I had Small Fry draw his own pictures and label them accordingly. My favorite part of doing this lesson with him were the questions he asked while we worked, most notably “Do plants have to have growing pains too?” This is an especially sore point (pardon the pun) with him right now because his legs have been really achy lately as he’s getting taller.

IMG_1422There are also lots of diagrams for coloring and labeling (also using the tracing method). After the lesson, there’s a little quiz – nothing major, just some simple questions that your child can answer with pictures. For example, “which of the following is not a plant?” This lesson was so interesting for my son that we finished it all in one day, and moved on a few days later to Fruits and Vegetables Around the World.

IMG_1423Fruits and Vegetables is a much longer lesson at 37 pages, but it’s also much simpler. It is separated into fruits and vegetables; they’re not combined. The first page (after cover and copyright) is a list of the fruits written in bubble letters perfect for coloring. The next 14 pages have pictures and a short paragraph about each of the fruits in alphabetical order. There is also a tracing area for the names of the fruits, and the pictures are line drawings that can be colored. In the middle of the book is the list of vegetables, and then the book repeats using vegetables instead of fruits. The last few pages, like in the Plants book, is a review/quiz and parent answer key.

Even though we didn’t get to them, I looked over a couple of the other lessons so I can be prepared when we hit official “back to school time” later this year. Animal Habitats is a 51-page ebook that runs a very similar format to Fruits and Vegetables, but instead of separating into fruits vs vegetables, it’s organized by type of habitat. For example, the African Savannah animals are listed together (lions, giraffes, elephants, wild African dogs, etc). If I counted correctly (there’s no table of contents), there are 16 different habitats covered, including some that you wouldn’t necessarily think of like Farms and Pets.

Senses and Systems covers exactly what you think it might: the 5 senses in humans and the main systems in our bodies. This one is 19 pages, and a lot of learning (reading) with fewer pictures. There is at least one image for each section, but it’s not quite as graphical as the others I looked into. This doesn’t mean it isn’t as good, though! There’s a lot of information covered, so it’s one that you would want to take a little slower with your child. I think when we do it, I’ll cover just one sense or system each day with plenty of review in between.

We really enjoyed the lessons that we did, and when we start up school again in October (we’re taking an extra month off this summer due to the arrival of our new baby at the end of this month), I can totally see us using more of these lessons. They’re really fun for the early elementary crowd!

For the next 2 weeks, through August 15, 2018, use coupon code REVIEWCREW50 and you can get any of the science ebook bundles (any level) for half price. For Level 1, that’s 7 books for just $6!

Blessings,

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Learning About Science collections {WriteBonnieRose Reviews}
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The Scavengers (Progeny Press review)

Munchkin and I have been blessed to review Progeny Press study guides in the past, and he and I both really love them. For this reason, I always request them when the opportunity arises. This year, we got a new book and study guide for him: The Scavengers – eGuide.

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The Scavengers, a novel for middle grades written by Michael Perry, is described as “a cross between The City of Ember and Holes.” Since Munchkin has read both of those and loved them, I knew he’d like this book, too. I figured that reading and studying this book wouldn’t be too much of a chore for him during summer break, and due to his lack of complaining, I think I was right. Either that, or he’s been happy to stay inside where it’s cool during these especially hot days.

7C6EC262-056D-4A94-911D-16D62EB22C34Set in a sort of apocalyptic future (like so many books are these days), this novel tells the story of Maggie. With the world falling apart around them, the government gives citizens a choice: move into the “bubble cities” or don’t. But if you don’t, all consequences of that decision are on you. Maggie’s family decides to stay out, and everything is okay . . . until they’re not. She needs to find some new friends to help her find and rescue her family, and that’s just what she does.

The timing of this review hit just when we were out of printer ink, so I didn’t get it printed and bound for him as I’d initially intended. Fortunately I was able to easily download the guide to my iPad (despite the company not recommending that, just in case it didn’t work) and save the PDF to my iBooks app. From there, he would go over the questions and other activities directly from the iPad and write the answers down in a notebook. Doing so was a really effective way of getting the job done. It may not have been quite as elegant as a printed and bound booklet, but it worked.

B89C43F0-BB0F-4D89-B546-5D5898E06B9DLike all Progeny Press guides, The Scavengers eGuide has a heavily Christian focus; this is one of the reasons I like them so well. Each chunk of the study guide covers 8 chapters (it sounds like a lot, but the whole book has 59 fairly short chapters, so an 8-chapter chunk isn’t so bad), and a fair number of the questions of each study-guide-chapter (especially in the critical thinking, “digging deeper” section) are directly related to the Bible.

A8DB71C5-CE89-4CE9-A073-37E035104356Besides comprehension and critical thinking questions, each section also includes vocabulary words. I’ve never expanded this very much (Munchkin is naturally good at all things language arts), but you could easily turn these words into a spelling list as well – especially if you wanted to make the whole guide a unit study. There is enough additional material here to help you on your way, including activities to be done before your child reads even one page of the book. In the first chapter of the guide, these activities are to research (and possibly build) hoop houses, and to explore what “eating local” really means – as in, could you even have your favorite foods if all you had available was what grows in your area?

Overall, we’ve been really happy with this Progeny Press eGuide. In fact, I’ve never been unhappy with one, but this one strikes me as especially good. I will definitely be keeping my PDF copy in cloud storage for use when my younger crop of kids is old enough to use it.

Blessings,

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New Study Guides for Literature From a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press Reviews}
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Math for Adults (Math Essentials review)

When I was in school, I always loved math. In my high school, only two math credits were required for graduation, but I took an extra year of math just for fun – yes, I used up one of my elective classes for math. That’s how much I liked it. Because of this love, I’ve never been one who’s afraid to teach math to my kids. But that doesn’t mean that I remember everything from back then well enough to teach it now. That’s where Math Refresher for Adults from Math Essentials comes in. And if you do have math anxiety (or need to learn/relearn math for a new job or because you’re going back to college or something), this book is for you too.

math refresher

This textbook covers all sorts of math concepts, starting at about a fourth grade level and going all the way through to Algebra I. With over 250 pages, there are a lot of lessons in there! You’ll learn everything from basic addition and subtraction to fractions (including all four operations), geometry, to the more complicated aspects of Algebra. Because I’ve got one student in Pre-Algebra and one in Algebra I, I skipped the first part of the book and dived right into the last third. I’ve been working for a couple of weeks now and am about a third to halfway through the section.

70DDF5A6-4941-40CC-81A2-28614CBA8726You’ll notice in the last paragraph I used the word “textbook.” This is really the best word for the book, which contains a short lesson on each page (usually a paragraph or less) followed by a series of 10-12 problems for you to solve. There is a place on each page to record your answers, but on most of the pages there is not room to “show your work,” as is often required in math (although when you’re both the teacher and the student, you can be a little more lax with yourself).

369073CA-8341-47E0-9324-D9CFC0A140D1The copyright on the book doesn’t allow for copying of the pages, but in the “helpful hints” at the beginning, the author recommends using a separate sheet of paper for your work and answers. This is exactly what I did, and I kept my answers on that sheet of paper rather than writing them in the book itself. This will allow me to keep the book clean and go through it again when I get to points with my third (and subsequent) children where I need another refresher in order to help teach them better. For my “sheet of paper,” I bought a spiral notebook for a quarter from WalMart. This allowed me to keep all the pages together rather than having loose sheets floating all around. This is something I hate when my children do, and I knew I would hate it if I did it as well.

In addition to the short lesson on each page, there are also video lessons for every single lesson available online. The videos are arranged by the book they originally appeared to go with, not for this book in particular. But since the concepts are the same, that’s fine. You can view the videos without having any of the books using the password on the “videos” page on the website. This could be a valuable resource to parents trying to make a decision on math still – try out one of the videos to see if it’s a way your child might learn well, then buy the correct book for your child’s grade level/age.

Overall, I have been very happy working on this book for myself this summer. As I mentioned before, I really like math, so it’s been really rewarding to be able to remember some of the things I learned in high school and have since forgotten. It makes me feel pretty good about myself to be able to go over those lessons again – especially when I realize I might not have forgotten quite as much as I thought I had (which is a real testament to my favorite high school math teacher!). I definitely recommend this book for parents.

For more information on Math Essentials, you can read my review of their No Nonsense Algebra textbook from last year (which Seahawk is still using). You can also visit them on Facebook.

Blessings,

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Math Refresher for Adults {Math Essentials}
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A Bible Study for Everyone (review)

Studying the Bible is important for everyone, not just kids and not just adults. As Christian parents, it’s a huge part of our job to raise our children to become God-fearing adults. A huge part of doing so is by studying the Bible. As part of this obligation (and I don’t use that word in a bad way), I almost always choose to review Bible studies when they come up as options through the Homeschool Review Crew. This time, we’ve been studying Genesis using Bible Study Guide for All Ages. Because of the ages of my kids, I’ll be talking about the Beginner (3-K) level and the Advanced (5th and 6th Grade) level.

The timing on receiving this worked out pretty well because we’d just gone back to the beginning of Genesis in our family reading. Each evening, we try to read a few chapters aloud as a family (Will reads, everyone else listens; those who know how to read follow along in their own Bibles). Then the next day, I go over the section again with the children in the mornings while Will is working. This way they get each section twice, which really reinforces what they’re learning during family time and prepares the boys for the next section. My time with the boys is when I pulled out the Bible Study Guide for All Ages.

Beginner (3-K)

bible study guide 3For anyone who’s read much on my blog at all, you know that I have two kids this age (well, one is 2 1/2, but close enough). We received one workbook in this level (the Unit 1 workbook) plus one copy of the Beginner Timeline. These materials are designed for “non reading children ages 3 and up.” The workbook is larger than a normal workbook, about legal size and bound on the short side so it’s long. It includes lessons for one quarter of the year, assuming you work at a pace of 2 lessons per week. We didn’t move quite that fast because we used it to supplement the reading we were already doing rather than as a standalone curriculum. Instead, I had Small Fry (6 years old this week, just finished Kindergarten) do the pages that corresponded with the section we had just read.

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bible study guide 1Each lesson is broken down right in the student workbook with instructions for the teacher/parent. It starts with showing a timeline card and asking the question on the card. The cards are in the order that the events occurred in the Bible (of course, since it’s a timeline). Each one is 8.5 x 11 and printed on cardstock in full color. They’re quite durable. This makes it a good resource for a group of small children – not only are they durable enough to stand up to reasonable use, but they’re also big enough to see without being right up on the card.

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After working through the flashcard, there are a few activities to help children learn the basics of the Bible: reciting books of the Bible in order, singing songs, answering questions, etc. Then there’s a short lesson including an “apply it” section. On the backside of the page is an age-appropriate paper activity.

Advanced (5th and 6th grade)

bible study guide 4For this level, I received one copy of the student workbook and a teacher guide, plus a set of Small Bible Book Summary Cards.

The workbook is the same size as the beginner version, but the activities are much more difficult (as suggested by the level). It starts with several memory activities to help students remember what they’d learned and read previously (it starts in Genesis 35, so there’s a lot of stuff that’s not specifically covered but is “reviewed” in the lessons so it’s not totally ignored). Activities include things like putting Abraham and his descendants in order from oldest to youngest, memorizing the book summary from the card, answering questions about the timeline of events, and then reading the Bible section and answering questions.

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bible study guide 2The summary cards are just what they sound like. Each one has color images on one side and a lot of black and white text on the other. There are also questions on each one to help make sure children are understanding what they read. The pictures represent the main events that happen in that book, and the writing on the back contains more details. It also explains the title of the book (Genesis means “beginning,” for example) and what type of book it is (history, poetry, prophecy, etc).

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This has been a really positive experience for our family. We’ve enjoyed exploring the Bible more thoroughly than “just” reading it. I’m not suggesting that simply reading the Bible isn’t enough, but it’s nice for children to be able to have some supplements to help them remember what’s been read more readily. I’m glad I’ve been able to work through this with them.

Blessings,

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Bible Study Guide For All Ages {Reviews}
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Art History for Upper Grades (review)

My kids love art. That’s not surprising, considering their dad does art for a living (he draws comics and does graphic design). But they don’t get a whole lot in the way of classical art or art history – not to say they don’t get that at all, just not as much as we’d like. So when the option of reviewing The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective was presented, I talked it over with my artist husband, and we decided it would be a good choice for Seahawk, who is 14 years old and entering his first year of homeschool high school in the fall.

The Master and His Apprentices is written by Gina Ferguson, and her story is quite fascinating. I’m not going to fully recount it here, but you can read it on the About the Author page on the company’s website. Suffice it to say that she never intended to write this textbook, but God had different plans for her life. Luckily for all art history lovers, she followed those directions and created this curriculum!

The Master and His Apprentices
There are two main components to this curriculum: the textbook ($34.99 digital, $149.99 hardback) and the teacher manual ($19.99 digital, $24.99 softcover). We received digital copies of both in order to complete this review. Because we have digital copies, the first thing I did was download both to my iPad, and a second copy of the teacher manual (which contains all the questions and answers for the course) to Will’s computer. I then printed the teacher manual from the computer and used the comb-binding machine at our church to make a book. The textbook is roughly triple the length of the teacher manual (380+ pages vs 120), so I opted to leave that one digital and have Seahawk read it on the iPad. (I try to remember to dim the screen when he’ll be reading for a reasonable amount of time to save his eyes a bit.) 

In the teacher manual, you can easily see a schedule, which is roughly one chapter per week. There is also a grading chart with space to record notes about your student’s participation, grades on their papers and exams, and final points in order to calculate a grade.

6EFAA187-B52E-4DC1-9C24-747BB5457D64The curriculum is mostly reading and answering questions, which I didn’t necessarily realize when I requested this review. That’s not Seahawk’s favorite way to learn, but it’s good for him to stretch his wings and do things that might be a bit uncomfortable, especially as he enters high school. In addition to all the reading and questions, there are also 4 term papers to complete, as well as 4 exams. Each of these projects/tests is worth 100 points, and there are an additional 200 points allocated for participation for a total of 1000 points possible in the course.

2DF503EC-C89B-4F8B-8972-53F728233D0CThe chapters are based around historical time periods, starting (after an introductory chapter) with Creation. The book moves forward in time from there, covering such time periods as Ancient Civilizations (biblical and non-biblical), the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, and ending with “modern.” I put that in quotes because that chapter covers from the 1600s and forward. Not many people would consider the 1600s to be modern, but the chapter does move all the way to current day.

Even though this course wasn’t exactly what I expected when I requested it, I do think I’ll have Seahawk pick it back up in the fall. Since he’s entering high school, we have to start keeping track of things like credits earned, and this one qualifies as a full credit for an “art history elective.” I think that’s a pretty reasonable place to start his high school career (besides the things that are easier to define, like math and language arts).

Read more reviews on this curriculum from fellow members of the Homeschool Review Crew by clicking the banner below.

Blessings,

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The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective {The Master and His Apprentices Reviews}
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White House Holidays (review)

Unit studies are a really fun way to learn, but it can be difficult to find those that work for a) older kids and b) a large age range of kids. Silverdale Press LLC has done just that with their White House Holidays Unit Studies. Each of the unit studies has activities for kids in elementary school and a separate section with middle and high school level activities. Holidays available for study are Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr Day, and Valentine’s Day. Each unit study has between 3 and 5 lessons, and it’s easy to move through quickly (a whole study in a week) or take your time and get really in depth (one lesson per week). We split the difference and kept it fairly simple but still just one lesson per week.

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We focused on the Labor Day study, and even though it only had three lessons, it was the only one we were able to do. Allow me to explain… even though these PDFs arrived in my email as “attachments,” the link opened up a Google doc rather than a download. Because of this Google doc format, I was unable to download any of them to my iBooks app, and since I’ve had very limited internet access until recently (last week, to be precise), I couldn’t spend the time I needed to be able to get the download figured out. And as soon as I left Starbucks (read: internet), I no longer had digital access to the files. I was finally able to get the file printed (long story, but basically I had to have access to 3 things all together that I rarely do: computer rather than iPad, internet, and our printer). A real PDF would have eliminated this problem for me, but it’s okay; it all worked out in the end.

Back to the Labor Day study. It opens with a note from the author, explaining why she chose to write these studies (as a homeschool mom, she wanted a rich study if the holidays for her kids; as a presidential scholar, it made sense to wrap the studies in that blanket to do so). This note also gives a basic overview of how the studies are laid out. Up next is the table of contents, followed immediately by the first lesson for grades K-6. 

The lessons are well written, with an overview on the first page on each one so you can easily see the required materials, things you can expect your student to learn during the lesson, estimated time, and lesson plan. 

A073EE27-8D97-4155-9F98-AA687316E837For the younger kids, lessons consist mostly of talking, reading, and a simple craft – for Labor Day, recreating a poster for the first ever Labor Day in lesson 2 and a story in pictures in lesson 3. I talked over the lessons and read the information to Small Fry, my 5-year-old. There are quite a few pictures of child labor to look over and discuss with children as well, and each has questions to guide you through the discussion. For children at the upper end of this age range, you could also have them write their answers down report-style. We didn’t do much in the way of the crafts because my kids prefer to use their own ideas when they’re being creative rather than something that’s been assigned. I felt that they got a good understanding of the material using just the read-aloud lessons and questions and answers, anyway.

Lessons for older kids follow the same format, with the overview and lesson plan on the first page followed by the text and images for the lesson itself. Older kids can – and are encouraged in the lesson plan – to do the reading independently. Discussions should happen with a parent though. Their activities in lessons 2 and 3 are more involved than just making a craft; they get to analyze past and current Labor Day speeches given by presidents and learn how to get involved by choosing a workers rights issue and writing a letter to their local congressman. 

All three lessons for the younger kids are together, and the lessons for middle and high school follow. This makes it easier to print just what you need if you have kids in just one of the age ranges.

Overall, this has been a really good learning experience for my kids. They didn’t know much about Labor Day (other than it means “the end of summer break”), so I’ve been glad to teach them more about this national holiday and why it’s important. It will be a good one to repeat every couple of years to remind them of its importance.

Blessings,

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Persuasive Writing & Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers & White House Holidays Unit Studies {Silverdale Press LLC Reviews}
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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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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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