Forensic Faith (book review)

I love forensics. When I was a young teenager, I’d watch Forensic Files with my mom. As an adult, I watched CSI (Vegas and NY; didn’t like Miami for some reason) with my husband. It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of those shows, but I still have that ingrained interest in the topic. So when I heard the title of the book I’m reviewing today – Forensic Faith for Kids – I was intrigued. 

This book, from David C Cook and Case Makers Academy, was an interesting read. We read it out loud together during our daily lunch break; this way we could read the book without interrupting the school day. It tells the story of a group of kids (their ages aren’t specifically stated, but they seem to be about middle school aged) who are part of a detective group in their local police station. They learn a variety of detecting skills from their mentor, Detective Jeffries. This character is based on the author’s real-life mentor of the same name. Author J. Warner Wallace is a cold case detective who has shared his knowledge on such shows as Dateline. He is also a former atheist, and he now uses his background as a criminalist to write books proving the truth in Christianity. Forensic Faith for Kids is his fifth such book.

During the baseball team car wash fundraiser, a dog shows up out of nowhere. There’s no sign of an owner. The only clue is a name, Bailey, on its collar tag.  

At church, Tiana tells her friend Hannah about a new friend named Marco. Marco believes that Jesus was “just a prophet.” He even has a book to back up this belief.

With the help and guidance of Detective Jeffries, using forensic science, the kids will solve the mystery of the dog and discover more about Jesus. Because the book was written by a cold case detective, it follows the real steps one must go through in order to solve any mystery, and it does so in reasonable detail. Besides showing the required actions in the story itself, there are callout boxes explaining different investigation terms and why they’re important. Sprinkled throughout the book are also “CSI Assignments,” which include scripture to read and critical thinking questions. This is in addition to the illustrations, each of which is captioned with a line from the text.

The book is unusual in its writing in two ways. First, it’s written in present tense (Jason asks, as opposed to Jason asked). This isn’t unheard of, but it is definitely rare. The second thing I’ve only ever read before in Choose Your Own Adventure books, and that is that it’s written in second person. This simply means that “you” are a character in the book. While that perspective was different, I think it’s very effective in this format – namely, because it’s challenging kids to explore their own faith and learn to defend it, putting them right into the book is very clever.

When I asked the boys their favorite parts of the book, Seahawk said he liked the CSI Assignments. Munchkin and Small Fry really liked the pictures. I liked how it took a potentially difficult, boring subject and turned it into an engaging story for kids.

Blessings,

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Forensic Faith for Kids {David C Cook and Case Makers Academy Reviews}
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I Know It (math review)

I’ve been working with Small Fry (6 years old) on a new math website called I Know It. From the creators of Super Teachers worksheets, I Know It is a completely online program offering supplemental math lessons for kids K-5. 

Even though it’s designed to work as extra practice for your child’s main curriculum, we don’t actually have one right now, so we’ve been using as a main math curriculum the past few weeks. Because Small Fry is only in first grade, that’s been okay; seeing the program in action, though, I agree that it would be best as just a supplement.

F2DB91CA-328F-496E-9B58-712280CA633FSetting up the account was really easy. It was just a matter of entering my son’s name and grade. Everything else was automatic, specifically the available lessons.

When you go to the site and log in, there’s a little pop up from which you choose the student who is using the site. Once you do that, the pop up closes and age appropriate lessons are available. 

You can assign specific lessons to your child or just have them choose from what’s available in their grade. I tried the assign method to see how we liked it, but in the end decided it was better to choose a lesson on a day to day basis. If you have upper elementary school students who can work semi autonomously, though, that would be a great tool to keep them from having too many choices and therefore not being very efficient with their time. Another reason assigning didn’t work too well for us was because my son doesn’t read independently yet (he’s still working on CVC words). Since I was sitting right with him during these lessons, I could just select the lesson I wanted him to work on that day. 

Once I’d logged in and selected a lesson, the questions would start right away (one at a time). I read the question aloud to Small Fry, and he would answer it on his own. There are lots of different types of questions: fill in the blank, multiple choice, q & a. One thing I appreciated was that on the questions that required a typed answer (all numerical in the first grade level), the website used its own keyboard rather the standard iPad one. This made it a lot easier to focus as Small Fry wasn’t distracted by the letters. 

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When the student answers the question correctly, a positive word shows up in green and the robot mascot did a little animation. This changed from question to question, though there were some repeats. 

Each week, I received an email from I Know It detailing what was worked on. It spelled out exactly how long he spent on the lessons, how many questions he answered, and the names of the lessons completed. This wasn’t super important for me since I helped my son each day, but if you have an older child working largely on his own, this information would be invaluable – especially if you live in a state that requires curriculum reporting. 

We have had a very positive experience with I Know It. Small Fry enjoys the lessons, he’s getting good reinforcement on age appropriate concepts, and it doesn’t take too long to get through a lesson (8-10 minutes for 15 questions). But don’t just take my word for it; click the banner below for more reviews. 

Blessings,

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Interactive Math Lessons K - 5 grade {I Know It Reviews}
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Bumblebee: a birth story

EE0671B2-D9E2-4FCB-AC8F-5E8463F42369My csection went great. Much better than my dream the night before, in which everything was going wrong. The anesthesiologist was amazing! And my doc got a cyst removed from a sensitive area while I was already numb, so that’s good.

55F1DD34-1124-4AB8-9EE4-268D0BC0434AWe got bumped back by almost an hour because there was a 34 weeker delivering at my time. Vaginal, but the NICU team was needed for him/her and they like having them on hand for csections too, so we waited. I haven’t heard yet how that baby is doing, so maybe keep the family in your prayers. 

They had a designated picture taker for us, and he gots of good ones using my iPhone throughout the entire procedure. I got a few minutes of skin to skin in the OR, which was a first for me and I loved it.

F5C1A0DC-DFBF-488B-B797-BE54D41DA512I spent  2 hrs in recovery eating ice chips, then got moved up to the mother/baby unit where we’ll be for the rest of our stay. I was a bit dizzy from lack of sleep and quite itchy on my face from the anesthesia, but rest and IV meds took care of those. He’s nursed successfully three times now, by just 13 hours old (as I write this at 2:15 a.m.).

Weight: 7lbs, 4 oz. He’s the exact middle of my kids in this regard.

Length: 19.5 inches

Time: 1:20 pm

Apgar: 9, 9

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Blessings,

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The Opera: Orfeo ed Euridice

I wrote recently about our trip to see La Cenerentola (Cinderella), and now I want to talk about when we saw Orfeo ed Euridice (or-fay-oh ed yoo-reh-dee-chay). If you read the Cinderella post, you’ll know that we took Small Fry to see that show. For Orfeo, we took the big kids (Seahawk, age 14, and Munchkin, age 11). We thought this would be a great one for them because it was advertised to be a combination opera and ballet, and they dance ballet.

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The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the oldest on the planet (excluding the Bible), and has been the basis for many, many things over the years. Let me give a short rundown, just in case you’re unfamiliar.

orfeo 1Orpheus is a demi-god in mythology (meaning he was the child of one god and one human). He was in love with Eurydice, and on the way to their wedding she gets bitten by a viper and dies. Orpheus, in his anguish, finds favor with the gods and they tell him that they will allow him to go into the underworld and save her. But there’s a catch. There was always a catch with those guys! He’s not allowed to look at her during their trip back. If he succeeds, she will rejoin him in the land of the living and they will have a long and happy life together. If he fails, she will be pulled back to the underworld, essentially dying again. They get all the way back to the opening, and Orpheus, so excited to have made the journey successfully, turns to look at his beloved only to discover that she hadn’t stepped out yet. Because she hadn’t completed the journey fully, she is pulled back to the underworld.

orfeo 2This is the basic story that Orfeo tells, but there was a bit of a twist at the end. I won’t worry too much about spoilers since the opera is no longer “playing.” After Euridice is pulled back to the underworld, Orfeo sings songs of great sadness and eventually Amor (Cupid) comes to him with good news. Love conquers all, and he has heard Orfeo’s anguish and knows that he is truly in love with Euridice. Therefore he is overriding the other gods and allowing Euridice to rejoin Orfeo back on Earth.

For this opera, we arrived early enough to the theater to participate in the pre-show, where an opera expert gives a short (30-minute) lecture on the play and the composer. It was really interesting, and especially good for the kids to get some background on what they were about to see. They got a bit of history (both fictional, in the history of the story, and fact, in the history of the composer) in addition to just having a better grip on the story before it even started.

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The combination of opera and ballet was stunning, and the sets and costumes were gorgeous. This was one that I wasn’t entirely sure about when I found out that Will had bought tickets, but after having seen it, I’m so glad he did! We both agreed after seeing Italian Girl, Cenerentola, and Orfeo that Orfeo was our second favorite. (Italian Girl still wins in our books, and Cinderella came in third despite being my favorite fairy tale.) The kids loved it too.

Blessings,

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Literature for Littles (review)

There are tons of literature opportunities for older students, but not as many for younger ones (outside of reading good books to them, of course). Today I get to review one such option: Paddington Bear from Branch Out World

This unit study is based on the original Paddington picture book, and there are lessons to cover 5 days. It is available as a digital download and does not include the book. There are plenty of options for the book, though: you can likely find it at your library, it’s for sale on Amazon, and there’s even a narrated video for it on YouTube. For many reasons, we weren’t able to access the actual book, so we used the YouTube video (which is about 10 minutes long).

The study opens with notes for parents. This includes things such as how to keep and store your child’s work and what will be studied each day, as well as what you need in advance. There’s also a list of additional resources that can be used in conjunction with the picture book (the Paddington sequel, for example). Finally, there’s a comprehensive list of supplies you might need (based on which activities you choose to cover each day), separated by day. 

41138FB7-79D3-4C09-8333-0F114CE2C42FAfter this section, you get to the heart of the study. Each day focuses on one aspect of the story (setting, words, pictures, science, and “crafts and more”). You read the story to your child each day (or in our case, have them watch the video), and then do the activities you’ve chosen. For the first day, where the focus is on the setting, it’s all about map work (physical setting) and making a timeline (the timing of the book). There are printables included for these activities in the appendix of the unit study. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have easy access to our printer, so Small Fry and I used the digital versions of these for our studying. Adding the PDF to my iPad, I utilized the “marking up” feature in order to show him some of the locations of the story on the provided map.

Day 2, words, opens with a short biography of author Michael Bond and then moves on to the main themes of the book (primarily helpfulness, which is a great thing to focus on with little kids). There are also instructions for vocabulary and a basic grammar lesson. This was pretty much a discussion day for Small Fry and me.

ECEDBE8E-4C81-44BB-AF6F-27E52EF38C7EDay 3, pictures, talks about the illustrator and his method of drawing (pen and ink colored with watercolors). Students are encouraged to create their own still-life of a bowl of fruit using either magazine cutouts or just by drawing. 

On the science day, there are two experiments. One is edible and the other is not. Because Branch Out World is a British company, some of the necessary elements for these experiments are either unclear (washing liquid, for instance – I’m not sure what that is) or difficult to find in the US (like caster sugar – I know it’s a type of sugar that’s somewhere between granulated and powdered, but I’ve never seen it in the stores here). If you can’t find what you need, though, it’s not the end of the world – there’s also a nature study included that you could do instead.

The final day is for math, crafts, and more. Math activities include drawing parallel lines (railroad tracks) and finding the numbers in the pictures, amongst others. Then there are options for art projects and recipes to make together – including Paddington’s favorite, marmalade. We haven’t gotten to those yet.

Overall, this has been a very rewarding study for my 6-year-old. He’s enjoyed the activities (even if we stuck to the basic ones like studying the maps and drawing pictures), and it’s been a really good introduction to both unit studies and quality literature. I was initially a bit skeptical (for no good reason, unfortunately), but am glad to have been proven wrong. We really enjoyed working on this together!

Blessings,

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Paddington Bear {Branch Out World Reviews}
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Jumanji

We recently watched the new Jumanji film for family movie night. A couple of days later, we went back and watched the 90s one with Robin Williams. Small Fry (6 years old) absolutely loved them, so Will came up with a clever idea to have some with our son’s new fascination. We would buy a copy of the game (it’s a real thing now!) and hide it in the bushes outside for him to find. To make the illusion more complete, he found a track of the “Jumanji drums” on YouTube and hid his iPad, playing the music, inside the box.

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With everything set up, Will took the boys outside to “play catch.” They tossed the ball around for a few minutes, and then Will threw it right to the bush where the game was hidden. It took some coaxing to get Small Fry to notice the drum sounds coming from the bushes, but when he did, he started digging around right away. When he found the game, he was excited – but fooled for one second that it had magically shown up!

It’s been about a week and a half now, and Jumanji is definitely his favorite game ever. He asks someone to play it with him almost every day. Luckily he has big brothers and a neighbor friend who are (usually) all too happy to oblige.

Blessings,

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The Opera: Cinderella

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For my birthday last month (mine is July 3rd and Will’s is July 5th), my husband bought opera tickets for us. He got 5 to each of two shows: La Cenerentola and Orfeo ed Euridice. I was super excited because we’d gone to see The Italian Girl in Algiers two years ago, and we loved it. La Cenerentola (chen-eh-ren-tola) is my favorite fairy tale – Cinderella – written by my favorite composer – Gioachino Rossini – so it was sure to be a hit with me.

This version of Cinderella has a differences from the “traditional” (read: Disney) story. The main elements are there, but the details are different. For example, there are two stepsisters making Cinderella’s life miserable. But instead of a wicked stepmother helping them along the way, there’s a buffoonish stepfather. Cinderella does get help to aid in her quest for love, but it’s from the prince’s former tutor, a man called Alidoro, rather than a fairy godmother. The final big difference is that Cinderella is identified by a bracelet rather than by her glass slippers. 

Like in the Disney version, Cinderella doesn’t immediately realize that the man she’s fallen in love with is the prince, but this is because he hides his true identity from her and her family. It’s quite comical watching and hearing the prince and his decoy (one of his henchmen) discuss how over-the-top dramatic the decoy is being.

Because we had 5 tickets, we invited some friends from church to go with us. One of them backed out at the last second, so we went with two of them and brought Small Fry as well. It was his first opera, and I’m so glad we took him!

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Blessings,

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Hands On History (review)

We had the pleasure of reviewing several products from Home School in the Woods just a few months ago. Now, we’ve been blessed with another: one of their Hands-On History Lap-Paks, this time on U.S Elections.

When you purchase the Lap-Pak (current price is $18.95 for a family license download; $1 more if you want a physical CD), you’ll receive a ZIP file that needs to be extracted. Once you do that, you’ll see lots of different folders. It can be quite overwhelming to figure out what all’s in there, but my advice is to stick to the folders (as opposed to the web links). All the PDFs you need can be found in those folders fairly easily. The Elections Pak comes with 3 such folders: images, MP3s, and PDFs. The PDFs folder then has three subfolders, but we’ll get to those as we move along here.

If it’s your first time using one of the Lap-Paks, the best folder in which to begin is the PDF subfolder “Introduction and Directions.” Here, you’ll find 4 PDFs to help you understand what you’ve gotten yourself into and how all the different pieces (the main project in this unit is a lapbook, if you and your are so inclined to make one) will go together in the end. The next thing to do, especially if you’re going to make the lapbook as prescribed, is to get all the printing done. I have to warn you: Home School in the Woods requires a lot of printing per child.

Once you, as the parent/teacher know what’s going on and have all the pieces printed, it’s time to get your kids!

The U.S. Elections study is recommended for grades 3-8, so I did it primarily with Munchkin (he just finished 6th grade), but Seahawk listened in a bit too. The last election was so … charged … that they were fairly interested in the process of how that all works and what went into everything that went down almost two years ago.

IMG_1424I started by having him read the “Elections Booklet.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s review (science for little kids), I haven’t had easy access to our printer of late, so I just had him read straight from the computer. Likewise, we didn’t do the full lapbook; instead Munchkin did the reading and wrote a little report for me. I wish we’d been able to do the full lapbook because the different pieces look pretty great, but alas that wasn’t in the cards for us this time. I’ll just have to save my files and use it in a couple of years with Small Fry – he’ll be in roughly 3rd grade just in time for the next election.

Now that we’ve talked about the PDF folders and how we used them, let’s move on to the MP3s. In this folder, there are 2 files, simply called “U.S. Elections Part 1” and “U.S. Elections Part 2.” If you have a child that is a competent reader – both in reading and comprehension simply by seeing the words – then you probably won’t need these. You see, they’re just a reading of the Elections Booklet I mentioned before. In our case, we didn’t need them because Munchkin is a visual learner (much like myself) and does better with reading than listening. If Seahawk had been doing this study more seriously with us, he’d have used the audio files exclusively.

This is a stock image of the lapbook project; it's not mine. As I mentioned, we weren't able to do the lapbook, but I wanted to include an image of it anyway.

This is a stock image of the lapbook project; it’s not mine. As I mentioned, we weren’t able to do the lapbook, but I wanted to include an image of it anyway.

Overall, I think this is a fabulous resource for teaching your children how elections work in the United States. I wish the printing hadn’t been such a burden this time around and we’d been able to do the full lapbook, but despite that, I can be assured that my son learned a lot about the election process just in what we were able to do.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing lots of different items from Home School in the Woods today, including many from their Project Passport series. Speaking of Project Passport, they were able to finish their most recent one early, so the Ancient Rome study is now available for purchase! If you’re studying that time period this school year, definitely check it out! Click the banner below to find out more.

Blessings,

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Hands-on-History, Project Passport, À La Carte Timelines and Time Travelers {Home School in the Woods Reviews}
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