Personalized Gifts with Meaning (CrossTimber review)

Names are serious business for some people. When you’re expecting a baby, you go to great pains to choose just the right name for your sweet bundle. Some people do this before the baby is born (I fall into this camp), and some choose a small list of names and decide only after they’ve seen their baby for the first time. Regardless of which way you choose the name, the name is of utmost importance. After all, it’s how your child will be identified for their entire life (unless the name is changed at some point, of course). It’s the very first gift you ever give your child, and it’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

A lot of people know that names have meanings, but not everyone knows what the meaning of their name is. The Dehnart family has made an entire business out of names and their meanings, and that business, CrossTimber, offers personalized gifts for any name. And I do mean any name. Have you (or your child) gone through life never being able to find anything personalized at places like Disneyland? Is your name an unusual spelling, even if it’s a common name? Have no fear! CrossTimber can, and will, create a name meaning gift just for you. They have everything from bookmarks and printed (or printable) pages to music boxes and mugs. You can even get a plaque with the names of God on it if you’d rather not have one of your own name. One of their best sellers is the Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse, which I received a version of for this review.

Because names are so personal, reviewers had the freedom to adjust the review item they requested. The base product is the Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse, but we were not limited to that. Because I have four children (all with fairly unusual names or non-mainstream spellings), it would have been impossible for me to choose just one of them to honor with this gift, so I went a different route altogether. I decided to honor my brother and sister-in-law with a beautiful name meaning gift for Christmas. I went with a Multi-Name Plaque so that both of their names could be represented on the page, and I opted not to have it framed for a couple of reasons. There was the cost involved, of course (frames are more expensive to ship than plain paper), but more so, I wanted to be sure the frame that the plaque goes into will fit their decor and personality. For this reason, we matted the plaque, but will give it to them sans frame so they can choose something that they will love.


This screenshot shows the different categories of backgrounds offered. Each of those has several choices within it.

Once I’d decided who to honor with this gift (and that was a decision that literally kept me up at night for a few nights), the next step was to go to the website and choose a design on which to display the names. There are dozens to choose from, and I sifted through most of them before landing on the music one. I chose that because music is an important part of their lives; they met as young teens playing in a rock band together, and to this day my brother plays guitar regularly and his wife is on their church worship team. The generic music background just seemed right for them.

kimg0074When my envelope arrived, I was not disappointed. The printing job on the plaque is absolutely beautiful. The names are prominent, the meanings are clear, and there’s a Bible verse for each name. The paper that it’s printed on is something between regular printer paper and photo paper, and the quality is magnificent. Working with John at CrossTimber was a dream, too. He really does have a passion for names, and is more than happy to help you during the research phase of your gift-buying. Before I’d made a final decision on who to honor with this gift, I sent him an email asking the meanings of several names to aid me in deciding, and he was very quick in replying. I asked for the meanings of my mom and stepdad’s names in addition to my brother and SIL, without thinking about the fact that my mom has a unisex (though more used for females) name. Because I hadn’t considered that fact that her name is unisex, I didn’t specify in my email her gender. Well, John included both the male and female meanings of her name. That’s going above and beyond, I think.

Speaking of going “above and beyond,” when I opened my envelope I was pleased to find a name meaning bookmark of my own name. This was not something I’d ordered, so it was a nice surprise. (I’m not suggesting that every order will get a bonus like this, but it was in mine, and I was pleasantly surprised, so I’m mentioning it.)

I can’t recommend CrossTimber enough, especially (as I mentioned before) for people with, or parents of a child with, an unusual name. CrossTimber is really pleasant to work with, and if they don’t know the meaning of your name, they’ll work with you to figure out the origin and then research the meaning for you. Literally no name is off limits!

Want a chance to win a name meaning gift? CrossTimber is holding a giveaway from now until December 4th. One grand prize winner will win a personalized mug or name plaque. Nine second place winners will each win a $10 gift certificate, which covers about half the cost of a variety of choices from their website. Make sure to hit their giveaway page for your chance to win!


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Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews


A Veggie Tales Devotional for Children (Review)

vt-devoThe past few weeks, Small Fry and I have had the privilege of reviewing a Veggie Tales Devotional for young children. The book, Every Day with God, comes in two editions: boy or girl. Obviously, we chose the boy version.

The book is set up to be a 365-day devotional for young children (target age is 4-7). Each entry includes a scripture, a short message using the scripture reference to back up the point, a “thought of the day,” and a short prayer. Small Fry, who is 4, and I were able to read a devotion in about 5 minutes. We often did this while he was in the bath at the end of the day.

In addition to the words on each page, each devotion is decorated with favorite Veggie Tales characters, which makes it extra fun for little kids. The devotions cover such topics as

  • Each child is special to God and created uniquely (Isaiah 33:17)
  • The necessity of obeying God (Deuteronomy 4:1)
  • God is always with us (Matthew 28:20)
  • Being thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • God’s love is perfect (1 John 4:12)

and many more.

My son enjoyed listening to these short pieces. He loves having people read to him anyway, so I knew this book would be right up his alley. I like that he’s getting a little dose of Bible.

I highly recommend this devotional for parents (or grandparents, or aunts and uncles…) of young children. It’s a great way to instill wonderful truths in them using little bites of information that aren’t too much for them to handle.

You can buy the boy version or the girl version on Amazon for $9.99 each. The publisher has also graciously allowed me to offer a giveaway to one lucky winner in the US or Canada. To enter, just fill in the Giveaway Tools widget below. Entries will be accepted through next Friday, October 14, 2016.


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Living in Historical Times (Carole P. Roman review)

This review is brought to you by Carole P. Roman and


I remember reading reviews of Carole P. Roman’s “If You Were Me and Lived in… {country name here}” series a few years ago; I’d never seen them, though. So when I heard about her new history series with the same basic title, I was intrigued. I talked to the boys about the books, and they were super interested, so we requested to be on this review. There are eight books in the historical series; we received four of them to review:

Each reviewer was given the choice of two they really wanted (I let each of the school-age boys pick one; Seahawk chose Ancient Greece and Munchkin chose American West), and then Ms. Roman sent along two “surprise” books as well. These books were a nice, easy history lesson for our first couple of weeks back to school. Each day, we read a book (or part of a book, in the case of the longer ones) and then did a related activity. For some of the related activities, we used the comprehension questions from the author’s website; for others, I came up with alternate options. But mostly, we just read them. Reading these books was how we opened our school day for about two weeks.

As the titles suggest, the books put your child right into the thick of the action of whatever era the chosen book is written about. The point of view is second person (you would do this, you would do that), which is unusual for books –  normally you see first person (I did this) or third person (Sally did that). The second person narrative made it interesting for the kids, especially since we read them aloud. Even Small Fry (4 years old) and Dragonfly (10 months old) were interested. As much as children that small can be interested, anyway.

The books give really good information about the time period about which they are about. We enjoyed reading about Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages especially. It was fun to learn about the types of names people had, what kinds of clothes they likely wore (each of the “you” characters in the books is from a well-to-do family, not a peasant family), and daily activities for children and adults. Even though the “you” character was from a higher class, there was also information about how the peasants lived, particularly in the Middle Ages book.

Of the four books we received, three (Ancient Greece, Middle Ages, and Viking Europe) shared an illustrator. These books were lovely, and the illustrations really added a lot. The layout on them was very simple, with the text in a single column on the left and the picture up the entire right side page and half of the left side page. On the pages where there was more text to fit, the picture was shortened to take up only about a third of the left page.


An example of the odd illustration style from American West

The other book we received, The American West, had good information but we didn’t care for the pictures at all. They looked like a weird conglomeration between photographs and clip art, and unfortunately I don’t think the style worked at all. In fact, it was with this book that I gave the boys a different type of “how well did you remember” activity: choose any page from the book and draw your own illustration for it, then summarize the text from that page.

Overall, we enjoyed reading these books. They were easy to read aloud (for me) and to understand (for the children). They learned a lot from them, and I think the kids are likely to read them again – at least periodically.

In addition to the four books we received to review, members of the Homeschool Review Crew also reviewing the other four books in the series as well. Click the banner below to be taken to the Crew blog post with links to those reviews. If you’re interested in more books from Carole P. Roman, you can head over to her Amazon author page, where you can easily find links to all of them. Her books are available in paperback and for Kindle.


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If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and}


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)

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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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