Discovering God in Ancient Egypt (Heirloom Audio Review)

Heirloom Audio Productions has long been a favorite of the Homeschool Review Crew, and we only recently had the privilege of listening to one of their audio dramas (Beric the Briton, earlier this year). Seahawk liked it so much that he really wanted me to request that we be chosen to review Heirloom’s newest offering, The Cat of Bubastes (boo-bass-tees). Luckily for him, we were.

The Cat of Bubastes is another of G.A. Henty’s novels; according to what I heard from other members of the Homeschool Review Crew, it’s a popular one to start with if you’re new to Henty (I’ve personally never read any of his novels – in fact, prior to the Review Crew, I’d never even heard of Henty). This one takes us back to ancient Egypt – Moses-ancient, not Cleopatra-ancient. The drama opens with the capture of Prince Amuba and his advisor, Jethro, by the Egyptians. The pair is bought by a very nice man, and each of the men is given to one of their master’s children as their personal servant. Before long, they find themselves caught up in a murderous plot that will test their loyalties. All the while, their newfound faith is being tested at every turn, pushing them to discover God’s love and providence for themselves.

I’m not going to really beat around the bush here… I find audio dramas difficult to follow. I’m very much a visual person. Seahawk, however, is an audio learner. He does really well with things like this – even in other school subjects. (I never truly processed this until right this second as I’m writing this. Thinking back to the things that have worked with him vs. not, I can really focus with him on things that will help him learn better from now on.) Because of this, he really enjoyed this drama. We would put it on for about half an hour each morning as our history lesson, and at the end of our listening time, we would do some of the questions from the study guide (more on that in a second). I really liked having the study guide; it took something that was interesting to listen to and made it more “school-like.”

In addition to a physical copy of the 2-CD set, we received several digital resources to go along with it:

  • an mp3 version of the drama, which is how we listened to it since we don’t have a CD player
  • an e-book version of Henty’s original novel (which I put on Munchkin’s Kindle for him to read later)
  • an mp3 soundtrack of the audio adventure
  • a printable poster featuring the cast
  • a PDF study & discussion guide
  • a printable inspirational verse poster featuring the cover art from the CD and 1 Chronicles 17:20
  • a behind the scenes video documentary featuring the cast and crew
  • access to the Live the Adventure letter

kimg0011As I mentioned previously, we used the study guide to help enhance our enjoyment of the audio drama. In order to do this, I printed off some Ancient Egypt pages from my membership and then read the study guide questions aloud to the boys. They then wrote the answers down on the notebooking page. I liked doing it this way rather than printing off the actual study guide because there was actually a place for them to record the answers. In the study guide itself, the questions are pretty stacked so there’s not much space for the answers if you want to keep a record of the learning from the drama. The study guide for The Cat of Bubastes is mostly questions (basic “how well were you listening?” type questions as well as “digging deeper” ones), but there are some other goodies in there as well, including vocabulary, bonus information about the time period, instructions for an ancient Egyptian game (which funny enough, my boys actually have, thanks to a Joseph-themed VBS this past summer), and even a recipe for bean cakes.

So what did we think of The Cat of Bubastes? Though I’m not really an audio person, I found Cat to be much more engaging than Beric. I found myself imaging what I was hearing much more easily than I have with other audio dramas in the past. Seahawk, of course, loved it. And Munchkin, well… he’s happy to have a new book on his Kindle to read later. 😉 Generally speaking, though, The Cat of Bubastes is another win for Heirloom Audio Productions.


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Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes



Parent-Controlled Email for Kids ( review)

The world we live in today is much different from the one I grew up in. When I was the age that my kids are now, email was something very few people had. Today, even children want their own email address. But the traditional internet-based email providers are riddled with ads (among other non-kid-safe things), and we don’t want to expose our children to that. What’s a modern parent to do (besides ignore societal norms and not let your kids have all the technological things they want)? Get them an Annual Subscription from!

I’d heard of this product before, but never really felt the need to explore it very much, because as a rule, we fall into the “ignore societal norms” camp with our children. (They don’t have cell phones, computers, or tablets of their own. Munchkin only just got a Kindle for his birthday last week, and it’s strictly an e-reader with heavy parental controls. It’s literally only for books that we approve.) But when we were chosen to review for the Homeschool Review Crew, we happily started using the service in our home. is a company that provides email addresses very similar to Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail, but for kids. There are a few things that “for kids” covers. First, it’s completely ad-free, which is important because not all of the advertisements on traditional email servers is kid-friendly. Second, parents can control everything done on the child’s account, without even having to log in to the child’s account. There’s a parent account that’s attached to the children’s accounts and you can control things from there such as

  • receiving a copy of all incoming and outgoing mail in your child’s account
  • setting specific times and/or days your child is allowed (or not allowed) to check their email – you can even “ground” your child for a set period of time if they’re in trouble
  • receiving a copy of incoming mail based on safety issues you set and approving or denying any messages before they get into your child’s inbox
  • blocking senders
  • setting a contact list for your child and allowing only messages (incoming or outgoing) only to that list
  • using the GPS tracker to know where your child is (if your child uses the mobile app)

In addition to these features from the parental controls, the child can choose certain aspects of their own to control, such as the background image and organizing their emails using folders.

Setting up the accounts was really easy. I just had to register for a parent account using my own name, email, and password. From there, I could add children’s accounts. There was a choice between a “normal” account ( or a more grown-up “teen” account ( Other than the ending of the email address, the accounts are the same (as near as I can tell). At ages 10 and 12, I gave the boys each a “kmail” address, and let them choose their own username. They chose based on their interests – Seahawk is {name)likeslegos and Munchkin is {name}likesreading. Neither of those are things I would have chosen for them, so I’m glad I talked to them before setting up their accounts. Having them choose their own username and password makes this much more their “own” thing.


You can see across the top that there are a lot of the normal email settings. The center section shows the sender’s name (which I blacked out for privacy reasons), subject, and when the message arrived.

Once they had their accounts, it was time to get some emailing done. I don’t know if you remember when your email account was new, but messages don’t automatically roll in. There’s the whole “getting the word out” thing you have to do. In order to aid in this, a few of us Homeschool Review Crew members set all of our kids up as E-Pals. I added all of those kids to my kids’ contacts list as well as myself and Will, their grandparents, and a couple of friends who had email accounts already. Since then, they’ve had lots of email each day, and they’ve really enjoyed making new friends and writing short messages back and forth. This has been a good tool in helping them with their writing skills (even though the messages are short, it helps them to remember to use complete sentences), typing (I only did their typing in the very beginning; now they do it themselves), and spelling (the spell checker has been great for Seahawk – he’s learned to spell some more complicated words just by seeing them corrected in his email).


In the “compose” window, you can see the options for sending an email. Children can import the “to” from their contacts list. The subject is non-optional (unlike some other email providers). In the message itself, there are options for changing the font, color, and size. Kids can also send attachments just like a regular email provider.

Overall, this has been a very positive experience for us. The kids enjoy their new correspondence, and I like giving them a bit more responsibility. We’ll likely continue this subscription even after it expires next summer. If you’re not sure you want to take the plunge, offers a 30 day free trial – no credit card required. If you want to continue after the trial, you can choose a monthly plan ($4.95 a month for up to 4 accounts) or the Annual Subscription ($38.95 per year for up to 6 accounts).


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 Annual Subscription
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A Novel About Prayer (The Pray-ers review)

I like to read. I especially like to read Christian fiction. So when I found out about a new novel written by Mark S. Mirza and published by CTM Publishing Atlanta called The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles, I immediately went to the website to find out if it was something I wanted to read and review. After reading the synopsis and watching a YouTube video of the author talking about his book, I thought it looked like an interesting book and one that I would enjoy reading and reviewing.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew had the choice between a paperback ($23.95) or an ePub download ($4.99). I prefer to read books on my Kindle (scandalous, no? I just prefer the lighter weight of the Kindle over a book), so I chose the ePub. I was so surprised when the email arrived and it was over 1100 pages! But as I started reading, it wasn’t such a big deal; the pages were only about a third the length of a normal ebook.

About Mark S. Mirza

As the leader of a men’s ministry in Atlanta, Mr. Mirza started Common Threads ministries to teach individuals to pray. He also coaches men in starting their own prayer groups. He wanted to write a novel to help people to pray because he preferred books and novels that taught him something in the process. Even with a lot of Christian novels, that doesn’t always happen, so he decided to write his own. Because his focus is prayer (even though it’s something he admits doesn’t come easily to him), his debut novel is the first in a series that teaches Christians to pray more effectively. “If I can teach prayer through the fun of a novel, then THAT’S what I want to do,” he says on his website.

About The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles

the-pray-ersTroubles tells the stories of three men living in three different eras: Epaphras (from the first century), Alexander Rich (a contemporary of Dwight Moody living in post-Civil War Georgia), and Dr. Dale (modern times). Each of these men faces adversity in their prayer life and find themselves having to rely heavily on the Lord to overcome these problems. There’s a fourth point of view explored in this novel, too: that of the demons who are causing all the problems for these upstanding men of God.

The book shifts around to the different times and places, and it does it well. One chapter might focus on Epaphras, and the next on Dr. Dale. Following that, we’ll follow Alexander Rich, and after that, the demons will make an appearance, plotting their attack on Dr. Dale. (The men from the previous eras are mostly there as examples of the demons’ past attacks.) All throughout the novel, in all the different eras, with all three different men, we see how the fight the adversity caused by the demons and how their prayer life is all the better for it.

My Thoughts


A sample of the random font differences. This picture also shows how footnotes are used in the novel.

I liked this book just as much as I thought I would. When I first started reading, I was a little confused by a word: katepa. I tried using my Kindle dictionary to learn the definition, but it wasn’t there. As I kept reading, I realized that this wasn’t a normal word; it was the name of one of the demons. The lack of capitalization had confused me. Thinking about it, though, I think the author was doing a good thing in keeping demon names (including satan) in lowercase. Even though it takes some getting used to as you read, it’s important not to give those creatures the respect of a capital letter. It’s mentioned in the forward that the author chose to use lowercase letters for demon names on purpose, but with virtually no introduction, it was still tricky to realize that that’s what was happening the first time.

My other issue was with the ePub itself, and it’s possible that there was a glitch with my particular Kindle, but there were random letters, words, sometimes full lines that were in a completely mismatched font to the rest of the book.

That aside, I found this novel quite enjoyable to read (when I turned off my “copy editor’s brain,” that is – but I’m not going to go into that today). I really liked how there were footnotes to scripture references whenever Mr. Mirza wrote about a biblical concept, even if he wasn’t directly quoting the scripture. I think this book would make a really good Bible study basis for an adult or teen group. It is enjoyable to read, and the scripture references would make for a compelling unit.

If you enjoy reading Christian fiction and want to learn more about prayer while you read a novel, give The Prayers / Book 1 Troubles a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.


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The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles
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Getting Started with French (Review)

Bonjour! I think it’s important to teach children a foreign language, and in the past several years I’ve read conflicting reports about what the “most used” language in the world is. It seems to vary between English and French, depending on which report you read. (The most recent one I read said that French had overtaken English, but it’s been a few months so it might have changed back again.) Combine that with the fact that I learned French when I was in high school (forever ago!), and it was an easy choice to have my boys learn French as their foreign language.

In our pursuit of the “perfect” language curriculum, we’ve tried lots of different things. (Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as the perfect option.) We typically use computer-based curricula for foreign language because, even though I know some French, I’m far from fluent – even pseudo-fluent enough to teach it effectively. When I learned that members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were being offered the chance to try out Getting Started with French from Armfield Academic Press, I wanted to give it a chance.

Getting Started with French is a softcover book with 172 lessons and over 280 pages. The lessons are very short (usually just 1-2 pages, sometimes not even a full page), with each one introducing just a few vocabulary words or a single concept. Some of the lessons don’t even teach any new French, but instead a concept in English that you’ll need for upcoming lessons (what an article is – a, an, the – for example). A lot of the early lessons focus on French pronunciation, which is quite different from English. To help even further with this, the company’s website has a free set of mp3 recordings you can download to help you.


An early lesson

As  you progress through the lessons, they get more complex (as should be expected). You learn the different ways to conjugate verbs and how to read and build sentences. Getting Started with French relies on a translation method, which can be “controversial” depending on who you ask (a lot of scholars say that immersion is the best technique for learning a new language). Once the new word or words are introduced and explained, there’s a list of French phrases (no more than what’s already been taught) and students are instructed to translate them into English. This can be done in writing or orally/mentally.

My intention when I asked to review this book was to work through it with Will in the evenings after the boys went to bed; I thought it would give us something constructive to do at night rather than just watching TV. Unfortunately, he wasn’t keen on the translation method and opted not to work on it, so I did it myself. I was able to skip the first several lessons because of my history with the language. The book was a bit easy for me, even though I haven’t used my French language skills in so many years; I had a great teacher, and the things she taught me have really stuck with me.


A later lesson

That said, I think this book would be a really good starting point for anyone who wants to learn French and is more comfortable having some English to rely on. Immersion might be the “best” technique, but it can definitely be frustrating at times. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with the translation method, especially for older students (it’s how I learned). I find that even in an immersion program, you find yourself trying to translate, so it’s okay to just embrace that and allow yourself to understand what you’re learning.

I would highly recommend this book for someone looking for a gentle introduction to French. The approach is slow and steady, but you really do learn a lot in just a few minutes (they recommend 30) a day. If you have a friend who’s willing to learn along with you, that’s even better because then you can practice with each other! Because this is such a slow build to the language, I think it would also be good for children who are beginning to learn English grammar, too. They can learn the concepts in English and then apply them in both English and French.

Overall, even this book wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, I did get some good stuff out of it, and I will definitely employ some of the vocabulary and technique as my family continues to expand our knowledge of the French language. In fact, the more I think about how I used it myself, the more I think I missed an opportunity with the boys; by starting them at a later lesson (because they definitely don’t need the early stuff about how French pronunciation is different from English pronunciation), I think this would be an amazing supplement to their other curriculum, and one I’ll probably implement later this week.

And what if you don’t want to teach French in your homeschool? No problem! Armfield Academic Press also offers Getting Started with Latin and Getting Started with Spanish. They’re also developing Getting Started with Russian, which will be available soon (though I don’t know exactly how soon).


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Introducing Getting Started with French {Armfield Academic Press}

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Downloadable Worksheets with a Christian Flair (CHSH-Teach Review)

I’ve got a really great program to review today: the CHSH Download Club from I’ve spent the past few weeks exploring the website in preparation of our school year, and I have to tell you: there’s a lot of really great stuff on this site! Covering all grades (K-12) and a huge variety of subjects, there’s sure to be something you want or need to incorporate into your homeschool here.

When you go to (short for Christian HomeSchool Hub), the first thing you’ll see is a “Today in History” calendar. These tidbits include all sorts of things from presidential assassinations to devastating hurricanes to William the Conqueror claiming the throne of England. Scroll down from here and you get to the real “meat” of the site: the Download Club, which features over 50,000 pages of educational material. Obviously I haven’t been able to sift through 50,000 pages, so I’m going to spend a short period today talking about the stuff we did (or plan to) use.

chsh-teach-french-flashcardsThe first thing I printed using my Download Club membership was some French language flash cards for my husband. He really wants to learn the language, but struggles to find time to devote to Rosetta Stone. These flash cards were just the thing to help him work through some vocabulary on his own terms, especially when he was away from home.

knittingUp next was something for Munchkin. Every so often, he expresses interest in learning yarn crafts from me, but apparently I’m not a very good teacher because he struggles to become proficient at them. On, I found a printout of basic knitting stitches. He knows how to cast on from my teaching, but actually knitting something has proved rather elusive for him. Now, he has a handy-dandy reference sheet to help him. Because he’s a good reader, sometimes things make more sense for him if he can look at a piece of paper and read instructions rather than watching and listening to me. He hasn’t put forth a huge effort in  a while, but I’m sure that when he’s ready to give it a real go, this document will really help him.

chsh-teach-biologyThe last thing I spent a good amount of time on was a science program for Seahawk. Included in the Download Club ($25 for one year or $99.99 for life) is a whole series of full textbooks. That’s right: complete texts! So I downloaded a 7th grade level biology course for him, and that’s going to cover his science this year. There’s a digital textbook and student book, so it really is a complete program. We haven’t actually started this one yet, but it’s on my agenda for later this week (and I have looked at it myself, so I’m not completely clueless regarding it). We’ll also use the spelling pages for Seahawk. These are separated by grade level, and there are 4-week units for each grade. Because this is a subject he struggles with, we’re going to start at a much lower level than he’s at age-wise to help him work through and hopefully become a better speller. Because he’ll utilize several grade levels, this will likely last him most of the school year.

On top of the downloads I’ve used thus far, there are pages in a huge variety of subjects: Bible, Foreign Language, Arts and Crafts, Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health (this is a subject I plan for us to use, but I haven’t explored it much yet), and Electives. You can browse the worksheets by subject or grade level. Having everything cross referenced that way is pretty helpful.

In addition to thousands of pages on the paid side of the subscription, there’s a free version to CHSH. The free version can be a great source of support for homeschooling families, even though it doesn’t include any of the downloads. There are forums, groups, chat rooms, and more, all of which would be a blessing to a homeschooling parent.

After using the website for several weeks now, I have just one complaint, and that is that it will sometimes require me to sign in twice to access certain materials. I always sign in first thing upon going to the site so that I can see the downloads I want, but there are times when I’ll click through to a certain document I want, and it will tell me that I have to be logged in to access that content. I wish it would remember from one click to the next that I am logged in, but it’s not something that’s a huge problem. It’s just an inconvenience.

Because there are so many different options in the CHSH Download Club, I’ve barely scratched the surface of available items. Make sure to visit other reviews through the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to learn about some of the things that other families have used. That will give you some more insight into just how amazing this website is


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Astronomy with a Creation Mindset (Apologia Review)

If there’s one thing Apologia Educational Ministries is known for, it’s their science programs. I’ve always wanted to try one out, but it’s never quite fit in the budget, so when the opportunity to review Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition was offered, I eagerly requested it. For this review, we received all of the different pieces to work this curriculum: the hardcover Student Text ($39), the Notebooking Journal and Jr. Notebooking Journal ($27 each), and the audio CD ($29), which is an audio book version of the textbook. Because this science curriculum is listed as a K-6 grade range, Munchkin and I have been studying astronomy together.

Apologia strives to offer curriculum with a biblical worldview, even things that some scientists would tell you don’t have any place in science – like astronomy. It’s easy to find God’s hand in biology (there are certain creatures that simply couldn’t exist the way they do without having been created – evolution can’t account for everything that evolutionists try to make it fit), but astronomy is a whole other beast. Especially when you consider that there have been people from the beginning of time (well, nearly the beginning…) who worshiped the celestial beings. I love that Apologia has taken this topic and given right back to God.

It’s a fairly simple curriculum to work through, though to be honest we haven’t really been doing it “right,” since it’s been summer. We kept it fairly simple and did mostly just the reading and notebooking, and a few of the easier demonstrations. We didn’t do much with the “above and beyond” stuff, but since school is starting for real this week, we’ll be adding those in with more vigor from here on out.

The textbook has 14 chapters. The first one is a basic introduction to astronomy, and it covers things like the stars, gravity, a list of the planets, space navigation, and astronomers and astronauts. Chapters 2-12 cover the sun, planets in our solar system, Earth’s moon, and space rocks – each one gets its own chapter. There is a lot of great information about each planet, including how to find it in the sky (where applicable), the astronomer who named each planet, and features special to that particular planet. The book finishes up with a chapter on the Kuiper Belt and Dwarf Planets (hello, Pluto!), and the book closes out with a chapter on Stars, Galaxies, and Space Travel.

apologia-worksheet-pagesThe Notebooking Journal and Jr. Notebooking Journal are hefty books (much thicker than the text) that are spiral bound for easy opening. There’s a huge variety of activities for each chapter including (but not limited to) minibooks, copy work, room for children to take notes based on what they read (or listen to, if you use the audio book), word puzzles, blank pages for drawing, experiment/activity recording, scrapbooking, and quizzes/tests. By the end of the school year, you’re left with a wonderful record of everything your child learned.

As I mentioned before, this was primarily used by Munchkin (5th grade) and me together during the summer. We’d read the text book together (we didn’t use the CD for two reasons: first, I don’t have a player for it; second, he’s a strong reader, so it wasn’t necessary) and then he’d do the pages in the Notebooking Journal that I assigned to him. He’s using the regular journal, not the junior one; I’m setting the junior aside to use with Small Fry when he’s in Kindergarten or 1st grade. It has the same kinds of activities as the regular journal, but it’s much simpler and therefore perfect for younger students. There are a couple of activities in each chapter that aren’t worksheet-related and therefore not in the Notebooking Journal – for instance, creating a model solar system with different sized balloons. We didn’t have balloons, but I still wanted Munchkin to understand the relative sizes of the planets to one another, so I had him draw circles using the sizes indicated. We didn’t have any paper big enough to draw a 300-inch circle (!), so we didn’t do the sun. I showed him my 60-inch tape measure and he calculated out how many of those it would take to make 300 inches and was duly impressed.

Our first experience with Apologia’s science has been a wonderful one. I wanted to review this program to decide whether I thought it would be a good idea for us to purchase these books for other science topics (they’ve been on my wish list for quite some time), and after seeing and using this one, the answer to that is a resounding YES! I’m definitely looking forward to using the different titles in this series in the future.

As always, I’m not the only one reviewing this program this week. Head over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more info.


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Never Lose Puzzle Pieces Again! (Enlivenze LLC Review)

flipstir graphic

Kids love puzzles. But it’s no fun for anyone when you get nearly finished – the box is empty – and there’s a hole in the picture. This is where the FlipStir Puzzles from Enlivenze LLC are such an ingenious invention. Available in five different pictures spanning two difficulty levels, FlipStir Puzzles, put simply, self-contained, 3D puzzles. There is absolutely no way for the pieces to get lost. Allow me to explain more.

Each puzzle (we’ve been playing with the Tyrannosaurus Rex one) consists of a clear tube with ten pieces inside. There’s a wand with a handle on the outside and a foot on the inside, and the goal is to use the foot of the stick to manipulate the puzzle pieces into place. It’s a little difficult to imagine based on written words (I know I had a hard time understanding before we got it), so I’ll allow Seahawk to do it verbally for you.


See, much easier to understand now, isn’t it? (My apologies that the sound doesn’t quite line up with his mouth. I don’t really know why.)

When we first got this in the mail, I was on my way out of town on errands. I kept the puzzle with me (the boys were staying home) and tried it as soon as I was parked at the store. It was interesting to say the least. It took me about 10 minutes to solve, which was less than I expected, especially once I started. I found it tricky to move the pieces into position, but once I had a method it was a lot easier. As soon as I got home, I presented it to the big boys with no words of explanation. They were really confused as to what they were supposed to do, so I offered the very basic instructions on the company’s website: Flip, stir, solve. Seahawk managed it fairly easily once he knew what it was. Munchkin had several failed attempts. He was getting very frustrated, so I suggested he put it aside for the day. He tried again the next day, and though it took him about an hour, he succeeded. He was very proud of himself, and I was pleased with him for not giving up.

flipstir puzzleI mentioned before that there are two levels; T-Rex is a level 1 puzzle. The other level one puzzle is rainbow colored pencils. Level 2 puzzles include the Statue of Liberty, the Solar System, and the Periodic Table of Elements. The difference between level 1 and level 2 is that the harder puzzles have wavy edges rather than straight ones. I haven’t tried a level 2 puzzle, but I imagine those wavy edges make it more difficult to move the pieces around inside their casing. The flip side (pardon the pun) is that once you get them into place, I bet they don’t try to slide out of place so easily. That sliding away from where you left them is one of the biggest hurdles to cross with the straight-edged puzzle.

As a parent, I love several things about this puzzle. First, the pieces will never get lost. The puzzle is completely self-contained, and the lid doesn’t come off. Second, it’s a great brain exercise for the children, and one that doesn’t require screen time or batteries. Third, it’s not Legos (lol). It creates very little clutter in the house because it’s just one piece, not much bigger than a can of soda. The kids liked the challenge. They’ve worked on it multiple times since we got it; it doesn’t seem to have lost its luster at all. After several weeks of having it, that really says something!

Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing all the FlipStir puzzles (except the Periodic Table) this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more information.


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A Pre-Reading Program for Your Littles (Talking Shapes Review)

Encouraging Early Literacy with Talking Shapes

In my years on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, most of the products we’ve been blessed to try out were for the older boys – they were the ones who were school-age, after all. But now, as Small Fry is getting older and bigger (he turned 4 last month), he’s excited to start some formal learning of his own. (Only some, though. He’s not even old enough for Kindergarten yet, especially when you consider our state doesn’t have compulsory education requirements until age 7.) When this new review opportunity from Talking Fingers Inc. came up, I knew he’d be super excited to try it out. I sat down with him and watched the sample video on the website, and he was hooked! So we eagerly requested to be on this review.

So what is it? It’s called Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy. The title just about sums up what the program is, but I’ll go into more detail over the course of this post. Put simply, it’s a computer-based program that teaches young children (kids who are ready to start reading, about 4-5) letter sounds in a fun way.

The company’s website states that this is an iPad app. While this is true, they are also now developing the same program as a web-based computer program. The web version is what I’m reviewing today.

talking shapes 1The fictional characters in the program live in ancient times, and the two girls love to tell stories. They just wish there was a way of recording their stories so that wouldn’t forget them from week to week. In order to accomplish this, they develop a system of making symbols/pictures represent sounds, and now they’re sharing that system with young learners using the program.

The program is divided into seven “books,” and Book 1 (The Fat Cat) works with a simple CVC set of words. Because Small Fry is at the lower end of the age range for this, we took it pretty slow – it is, after all, his first exposure to reading and writing (outside of forming the letters for his own name). During the past month, we’ve made it through Book 1, which teaches -at words (cat, sat, hat, and fat). Each letter is given a picture to help children learn the shape of it (C is a cat, S is a snake, H is a hat, F is a fox, A is an acrobat, and T is a tree). These pictures are used throughout the lesson for consistency.

Talking shapes C

This screen shot shows the three ways children are asked to “write” the letters.

The book starts by reading a story to the child, which includes the base story (about the sisters developing the system of writing) and the focal words for the story – in Book 1, it’s the -at words I mentioned before. Each word appears in the story multiple times, and at certain points in the story children are given the task of repeating the sounds and “writing” the letters for the words three times each. The first time is traced, with the picture and the letter superimposed together. The second time is just the picture and the child writes the letter over the top. Finally, there’s an empty box where the student draws the letter “from scratch.” This can be done on a touch screen (if you have one) or with the mouse on the computer. My laptop has a traditional screen, so we used the mouse. It quickly became apparent, though, that this wasn’t going to work for my son long-term. It was too hard for him to control the mouse, and I didn’t feel like moving a mouse on the screen was the same as writing, anyway. Also, the program doesn’t recognize whether you draw the lines in the right order or not, only that you’ve traced the predetermined locations of the lines. To combat this, I helped him with the mouse maneuvering and then had him write the letters on a sheet of paper separately as those activities came up.

talking shapes c1

An example of how it’s possible to draw the letters out of order.

Once you reach the end of the story, there are some games utilizing the words learned. For Book 1, there’s a stanza that has all of the focal words as well as few other -at words. The program reads the poem aloud, then on the second pass, the focal words for the lesson are removed and students have to find the right one from floating balloons.

I think this program is a pretty good introduction to early literacy for young children. It’s a much more fun approach than the book we used for teaching Seahawk (now 12) to read. I think making reading fun instead of difficult or hard is important for creating life-long learners and readers. Talking Shapes is perfect for that. My only critique of the program is the writing portion. Doing that digitally isn’t very effective for very young children, especially when you take into account the fact that you can just scribble the mouse over the letter and make it work. I can’t think of a better way other than having a separate workbook, though, and that’s not going to be ideal for every family either.

So that’s what I think… What about my son? Well, he absolutely loves this program! Every single day, he asked if he could do “my school.” He is so excited to work on this program daily, and that is high praise from a 4-year-old. Having such a fun way to work on words and sounds will ensure he learns to read and ends up enjoying the pastime.

All told, if you have a child who’s ready to start learning to read, I think Talking Fingers’ Talking Shapes is a great way to go.

There are 43 members of the Review Crew blogging about Talking Shapes this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more reviews.


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Listening to History (Heirloom Audio Review)

Throughout my years on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I’ve heard only good things about Heirloom Audio Productions. This vendor has come back time and again, having all of their audio dramas reviewed by the Crew. I’ve read several of these reviews over the years, and they’re always positive. Until now, I’ve never had the privilege of listening to one of these dramas; because I know they’re high-demand products for Crew members, I volunteer to sit out so people who are passionate about them can get the opportunity to review them. This time, even though I volunteered once again to sit out, I was chosen to review Beric the Briton – and I’m glad I was.

Beric the Briton review at Ladybug Daydreams

Beric the Briton is based on the novel of the same name by G.A. Henty, a 19th century novelist and war correspondent. During the course of his 30-year (approximately) writing career, he penned over 80 novels (according to his Wikipedia page). Several of these have already been turned into audio dramas by Heirloom Audio, and one (A Final Reckoning) was made into a movie in 1929, over 25 years after the death of Henty.

The original novel of Beric was published in 1893 and tells the story of the Roman invasion of England. Beric and his friend Bodouc are British citizens who get captured by Rome during the invasion and are forced to become gladiators who are given to the emperor Nero as servants. They hear rumors surrounding a man called Christus, and as they hear and learn more about this mysterious man, they find themselves confronting their own pagan pasts. They’re forced to make some serious decisions: should they continue to seek revenge on their captors, or offer the forgiveness of Christus?

For this review, I received a physical copy of the two-disc CD set containing the story as well as large variety of digital components, including:

  • A study guide
  • The audio drama on mp3
  • An e-book version of Henty’s original novel
  • The soundtrack for the drama on mp3
  • 2 printable posters
  • Unlimited access to the Live the Adventure e-newsletter
  • A behind-the-scenes video documentary with the cast and crew

Of these bonuses, we’ve so far just used the mp3 audio drama (we don’t have a CD player, so even though I received a physical CD, we didn’t use it), but I did spend a bit of time looking through the other items, especially the study guide. Heirloom put a lot of time into creating this study guide, and it’s really wonderful. It opens with biographies of the historical figures from the story (Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea), and then for each track of the CD (roughly 5-7 minutes of content), there are comprehension questions, critical thinking questions, and vocabulary. Sprinkled throughout the guide are also other activities, such as recipes, interesting facts (types of gladiators, for instance), links to further learning, and more. Looking back at the study guide after having heard the drama, I wish I’d had the boys use it while we listened. But no matter – we’ll listen to this again in the fall and do the study guide “right” when we do.

When we first received the set, Munchkin, Small Fry, and I listened to the first half of the part I (the equivalent of the first CD – there are two in the set). (Seahawk was busy doing something with Will.) It became obvious to me at that point that it wasn’t going to be their cup of tea. It was difficult to focus for them, and we honestly just had a lot of things going on at the time. They were drawing while they listened, and I was using the computer to create birthday party invitations for Small Fry. It wasn’t the right time to have tried to listen to something so complicated as this, so I put it away for a while.

A couple of weeks later, I tried again, this time with all the boys. This was definitely the right answer! We still did other things while we listened, but they were things that didn’t require quite so much brain energy. The boys were still drawing and coloring, but I worked on knitting instead of thinking through party details. Doing “monotonous” things helped a lot with the ability to listen to the story. Seahawk, who I figured would be the least interested in this, ended up being the one who loved it the most. When the first part ended, he was chomping at the bit for the next part; now that we’ve heard the whole thing, he’s anxious to hear more of these audio dramas.

Even though Munchkin didn’t really resonate with the audio drama, I’m going to have him read the e-book of the novel that came with our bonuses. The story is good enough that I want him to know it; he’s just more of a reader than a listener – like his mama. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll have it printed and bound for him, or put it on my Kindle and let him borrow it.

In conclusion, we’re Heirloom Audio Productions converts. We absolutely loved this audio drama, and will be among those requesting more of them to review in the future.

You can purchase Beric the Briton on CD for $29.97, and this price includes the mp3 version, study guide, one printable poster, and soundtrack mp3. For $19.97, you can get the drama on mp3 (no CDs) with the study guide and printable poster.

This is Heirloom Audio’s fifth installment in their series of Henty-inspired dramas. They also have Under Drake’s Flag, In Freedom’s Cause, With Lee in Virginia, and The Dragon and the Raven.

There are 100 Crew members reviewing Beric the Briton this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog to find out what they all thought about it, too.


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Would a Worm Go on a Walk? (book review and giveaway)


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I have a lovely book to share with you guys today. Would a Worm Go on a Walk? is written by Hannah C. Hall and illustrated by Bill Bolton. The story is told through a series of short poems about animals, asking if each one would do a “human” activity.

Would a worm go on a walk?

Would a lion become a lifeguard?

Would a ladybug wear lipstick?

A lot of children’s books would try to come up with reasons as to why the animals would do these specific activities, but not this one. Would a Worm Go on a Walk? gives a fun reason that the animal in question doesn’t do the funny thing, but they all come down to the same core reason: because God didn’t make them that way.

After reading about nine animals and why they don’t exhibit human behaviors, the book culminates with the idea that people are “God’s masterpieces.”

But God’s designs weren’t finished.

His special plans weren’t through.

The animals were just a start.

God’s masterpiece is YOU!

I’d told Small Fry that we’d get to review this book several days before it arrived, and he asked every day if it was here yet. He was so excited about it! The day it showed up, we read it twice (practically before the mail truck even had a chance to leave!). Once he moved on to other things, I took a good look at it, and saw just how beautiful the illustrations were. They’re lovely on a quick pass; they’re positively gorgeous when you look at them carefully.

Overall, this is a wonderfully done book. The message is beautiful, the illustrations are amazing. The two parts work together perfectly to make the book a delight. Flyby Promotions has graciously donated another copy of this book for me to offer as a giveaway. Fill out the Giveaway Tools widget below for your chance to win. The giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 5th at 5 a.m. PST.


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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.