Category Archives: Homeschool Resources


As more of our children approach school age, I’m realizing the importance of fostering as much independence as possible when it comes to homeschooling so that I’m available to help whomever needs it at the moment.  Math has been one subject where that seems feasible, so we were excited to get a chance to review GPALOVEMATH, an online math program from GPA LEARN.


GPALOVEMATH offers a complete web-based math curriculum for grades K-5.  Because the entire program is online, it can be accessed from both computers and tablets (though recent Kindle Fire updates have created incompatibility issues that are currently being addressed).


There are over 150 lessons for each grade, so at a pace of 4-5 lessons per week, a student can complete a grade in about 10 months.  Each grade level has a particular “Learning Coach” who helps guide students through their lessons.  Both my boys have been going through the 1st grade course, so their Learning Coach is Pi the Penguin.

Learning Coaches
Each lesson consists of three parts:  Instruction, Practice, and Quiz.  In the Instruction section, the Learning Coach guides the student through the content of the lesson.  The student clicks through slides while listening to their Coach read aloud the words at the bottom of each one.Screenshot (11)

The Practice section gives the student a chance to work through problems without being scored.  They have three “life lines” available if they need help, and once they give an answer they are told whether or not it is correct.

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The final section is the Quiz, which consists of 10 questions.  Students enter their answers but don’t know whether or not they were correct until after the entire quiz has been completed.  They are awarded badges and earn points based on how many correct answers they gave.  It’s not necessary to complete the Instruction and Practice sections first, so if the student feels like they can answer the questions without going through those, they are free to jump straight to the quiz.

Screenshot (14)

Other Features

In addition to the lessons, GPALOVEMATH offers an  “Engage” section, a private social network that allows the child to interact with parents and preapproved friends online.  I don’t feel our children are ready to use the computer in this way, so we didn’t utilize this feature at all.

Screenshot (15)

My boys’ favorite feature was the “Motivate” section.  When we first created their accounts, I was able to set up a list of rewards which would be awarded after a set number of lessons.  (The more rewards I selected, the more often they were given.)  The rewards included things like extra screen time, baking cookies with Mom, getting to choose what’s for dinner, having a parent complete one of their chores… you get the picture.   In addition to these automatic rewards, students can use the points they earn after completing lessons to “purchase” rewards (which then wait for approval from the parent).  In addition to things around the house, there are even opportunities to use their points toward gift cards (available in limited quantities, but with new ones available every so often).  Talk about motivation!

Screenshot (16)

Our Experience with GPALOVEMATH

When I first created our accounts, I was worried that the program was going to be overwhelming.  It took a while to set up the rewards list (there were SO many things to choose from, and I was nervous about choosing the preselected option without knowing exactly what was included), and then I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the Engage part of the website and whether or not it was necessary and/or desirable for our family.

Once we finally settled into the lessons, however, things flowed smoothly and the boys were both able to work pretty independently.  The only time my involvement was required was when they had selected a reward and needed it approved.  Other than that, they pretty much just worked through their lessons on their own while I watched on the TV hooked up to our laptop to make sure they were understanding.

Ian realized right away that the first grade lessons were pretty easy for him, and he skipped right to the quiz on almost every lesson.  At the time I couldn’t find an easy way to change his grade level, so I just left him in first and figured he’d solidify his foundational skills.  (When we initially began the program, each grade level was purchased separately.  However it has now been updated so that each user has access to ALL the grade levels, which has made it much simpler to adjust.  This was a GREAT change that makes the program so much more user-friendly.)

Even without going through the Instruction and Practice sections, both boys usually found the questions fairly self-explanatory.  Occasionally we ran into problems where even I couldn’t figure out what the questions was really asking for.  (Elijah called me over when he was confused by a question that read, “Select the set that matches.”  “Matches WHAT?” he asked.  I couldn’t figure out either, and my guess ended up being the only wrong answer he got on that quiz.  We also ran across one problem that marked a correct answer as incorrect.  I emailed customer service with screenshots, and they emailed me the next day to let me know they had fixed the problem.

Aside from those minor glitches, the only real frustration we had was the appearance of the Learn screen.  Each grade level has 3 “paths,” which allows the student some flexibility in choosing what lesson they want to work on.  Once they complete a lesson, a new one unlocks.  Ian had been working for a couple weeks and his screen never seemed to change from what it had looked like after the first few lessons.  I couldn’t figure out why it always looked like this, even when I knew he had completed several lessons:

Screenshot (9)

Eventually I realized that there were arrows on the left side of each “path,” and once we clicked on those we could reveal all the lessons he had completed.Screenshot (10)

I wish this view were available automatically, because it was discouraging for him to open up the Learn section each time and never see any apparent progress.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with GPALOVEMATH.  The boys loved earning rewards, and I appreciate both the thoroughness of the program and the independence it allows.  We plan to continue using it as our primary math curriculum at least until the end of this school year.

GPA Learn Review
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Math Analogies-Beginning software (Crew Review)

Math Analogies Review
If you’re looking for ways to help your kids develop their minds, be sure to check out The Critical Thinking Co.  They offer a wide variety of products designed to help kids build problem-solving skills in multiple subjects at every grade level.  We recently received a copy of their Math Analogies Beginning downloadable Windows software for Kindergarten through first grade.

What is it?

When I first heard the words “math analogies” I was curious as to what this program was going to include.  The only time I remember working on analogies in school was in my high school English classes, and I wasn’t sure how those word analogies were going to compare.

Not only was it easy for me to catch on to the way Math Analogies Beginning worked, both Ian and Elijah had no problem understanding what to do right from the start.  Each analogy presents a pair of related pictures, followed by a single picture for which the user has to find a match.  Four possible answers are given, and the user simply selects which picture they think makes the best match according to the relationship in the first set of pictures.

math analogies 1x
Like the above example, many of the analogies can be understood just by looking at the pictures.  Others require some prior learning (i.e. reading ability, knowledge of U.S. coin values, telling time).  Once an answer is selected, the program lets the user know whether it was correct or incorrect.

math analogies 2x
A few of the analogies were really challenging for my boys (ages 5 and 7), and I had to help them see the relationship between the pictures.

In Analogy 5 above, for example, I asked them questions about the first pair, focusing on things that would also related to the second.

  • “Are the eyes opened or shut?”
  • “How about the mouth?”
  • “Is the face happy or not?”

Once they started looking at these details they were both able to figure out the correct answer.

There are 152 analogies total.  When you first open the program, it asks you to enter your name and then keeps track of how many analogies you have attempted, as well as what percentage of those you have gotten correct.

opening screenx
Once the user has gone through all 152 analogies, a second attempt can be made, which only shows the problems answered incorrectly the first time through.  When all the analogies have been completed correctly, no more attempts are offered (though you can select the “restart” option at the top, which erases all previous information).

The entire set of Math Analogies are also available in book form ($11.99).  The main difference between the software and the workbooks is that only the software offers multiple choice answers.  In the workbooks, the answers have to be drawn or written in all on your own.

Our Experience

I was really impressed with this program.  I loved that it helped build critical thinking skills without feeling like typical math problems.  Both Ian and Elijah were immediately intrigued by the analogies and dived in enthusiastically.  Ian completed over a hundred analogies the first night, and Elijah spent just as much time working on it, though he was a little slower in processing and only managed to get through 74.  (After that their enthusiasm waned a bit, so I just had Ian complete 5 a day after his regular math assignments, and Elijah just jumped in whenever he felt like it.)

math analogies 3xI liked that most of the analogies could be solved just by looking at the pictures.  Elijah won’t even be in Kindergarten for a few more months, so I’ve never really taught him concepts like how to read an analog clock.  This was the main reason I chose the Beginning software rather than Level 1.  I think both of my boys could have handled many of the Level 1 analogies, but after looking at the samples given on the website, I was afraid there would be too many that required them to know things we haven’t covered yet.

What I Liked:
  • It’s helpful to see a score based only on the number of problems attempted, rather than the total amount.
  • I love that this is a software program.  It seems like so many educational companies have turned to an online subscription model, which means I won’t be able to use what I’m paying for with my younger children without spending more money.  Since we have lots of kids who haven’t even reached school age, I really value products that we’ll be able to reuse.
  • At $6.99, I think this software is a great deal.  I love finding things that help my kids develop thinking skills, and this is an affordable way to do that without cluttering up our school room shelves.  (Requires Windows® 8/7/Vista.  No Mac version, but it is available as an app for iOS and Android.)
  • There are more levels!  Once my kids have mastered this Beginning level, there are still two more levels of software that can continue to stretch their minds.
What Could Use Improvement
  • The biggest change I would like to see in this software would be to break it down into smaller groups rather than one big lump.  After the boys’ initial voracity, they could have used something more “bite-sized” to help them work through the rest of the analogies.  Just counting 5 a day provided no sense of accomplishment when they’d finished the assignment.  When using the book versions of the math analogies, it would be easy to just assign a page; I wish there were an equivalent for using the software.
  • It would have been nice to be able to have records kept for multiple users.  As far as I could tell, only one person was able to work through the program at a time.  When we tried to open a new user, it erased all the progress of the previous one.  We were able to get around this by installing the program on 2 computers (as our license allowed–another option allows for up to 6 computers) so the boys could work through the analogies at the same time.

 All in all the Math Analogies Beginner software was a hit at our house.  This was our first exposure to The Critical Thinking Co., and I look forward to exploring more of what they have to offer.  Other Crew members have been exploring a variety of products, so be sure to click the banner below to find out what they thought of them!

Critical Thinking Company Review

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In Freedom’s Cause (Crew Review)

In Freedom's Cause
William Wallace seems to be one of those historical figures whose story grips the heart of all who hear it.  It’s hard not to be moved by the tale of this man who gave up his life for the pursuit of freedom for his countrymen.  So when I heard that Heirloom Audio Productions had released an audio theater recording about the story of William Wallace and Robert Bruce, I was eager for the chance to review the In Freedom’s Cause Single Package.

About In Freedom’s Cause

My excitement over In Freedom’s Cause stemmed from how much we enjoyed Heirloom Audio’s first recording, Under Drake’s Flag.  Based on G.A. Henty’s historical novel about Sir Francis Drake, Under Drake’s Flag was an exciting dramatization that captured our family’s imagination.  My kids spend several hours each day listening to audio books and radio dramas, so I am always on the lookout for quality productions that promote the values we want to instill in our children, and this first offering from Heirloom Audio was a real treasure.

I think In Freedom’s Cause is even better than its predecessor.  I hadn’t gotten past the back cover before I knew we were in for a treat.

back cover
Then we listened to the story over the next few days, and I was even more impressed.  The cast is phenomenal, the soundtrack is beautiful, and the quality of the production is superb.  I’m a history-lover myself, but I think even people who don’t share that passion will be drawn into this story and enjoy listening.

In addition to the entertainment value of the production, In Freedom’s Cause offers plenty of educational opportunities.  The In Freedom’s Cause eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a 49-page pdf document that makes it easy to use the recording as a learning experience for families (available as a download, the link is included in the CD packaging).  It offers suggestions for walking younger children through the story or helping older children complete related written assignments. Each of the 37 lessons in the study guide covers a 4-to 10-minute segment of the recording and includes three parts:

  • Listening Well (questions about what happened in the story)
  • Thinking Further (questions for further research or to think more deeply about things that happened in the story)
  • Defining Words (vocabulary used in the story)

At the end there is information about Scottish history to help listeners better understand the context of Wallace’s story, three short Bible studies to help students explore the biblical themes in the narrative, and suggestions for further reading.

Our Family’s Experience with In Freedom’s Cause

We listened to the entire recording over the course of a few days as we drove in the car.  Although Ian (7) was probably the only child following the story completely, my younger children enjoyed it as well, often repeating lines that struck them as humorous.  It was definitely an entertaining way to pass the time on otherwise boring drives. In Freedom's Cause Audio CD ReviewThe In Freedom’s Cause Single Package includes the 2-CD set AND instant access via MP3 download, as well as several free bonuses:

  • The In Freedom’s Cause eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter
  • A beautiful printable copy of The Prayer of William Wallace
  • The In Freedom’s Cause Soundtrack MP3 download

The Review Crew was also blessed to receive access to some of the bonuses that come with other packages.  Our favorite was the video Behind the Scenes of In Freedom’s Cause, which showed the actors in the recording studio and gave a fascinating look at the process of creating the whole production.  Ian loved seeing the actors work, and it made the story even more interesting the next time we listened to the CDs.

Our time with In Freedom’s Cause has been entirely positive.  The only change I might suggest is for an Heirloom Audio website that lists their growing collection of audio theater albums.  If I had just stumbled upon In Freedom’s Cause, I would immediately have gone looking to see what else the company offered, and because each album has its own website, it’s not as obvious as it might be to find what else they have produced or might be working on.

As I said before, history fascinates me, and the best way I know of passing on that fascination is by introducing my children to exciting stories of the past.  G.A. Henty’s books are a wonderful resource in that quest, and Heirloom Audio has made it so easy to introduce my children to these stories.  Not only do they help bring history alive, they also emphasis faith, courage, respect, honor, and other character traits our family values.  In Freedom’s Cause has been a great addition to our family’s audio library!

Check Out In Freedom’s Cause on Social Media





More Coming Soon From Heirloom Audio!

With Lee In VirginiaAfter enjoying both Under Drake’s Flag and In Freedom’s Cause, we’re looking forward to more from Heirloom Audio.  Next up is With Lee in Virginia, set to be released around Memorial Day 2015.

Keep up-to-date on this new release by following on social media:

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In Freedom's Cause Review
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Theo: God’s Love (video review)

God's Love (Volume 1) Home Edition - DVD

I recently heard a mom talking about the Theo Bible story videos her kids had been enjoying, and since I’m always looking for resources to help teach my children about Scripture, I headed over to to find out more.  Right away I noticed the company’s emphasis on teaching children God’s Word, and I was delighted to get a chance to review the three episodes from the DVD Theo: God’s Love.

The main characters are two mice, Belfry and Luther, and the old pastor with whom they live, whose name is Theo.  Each episode follows the same basic formula: Belfry and Luther face a problem, then Theo explains a basic doctrine that addresses that problem, followed by a Bible story to illustrate the point.

Quick Summaries

In “Saving Faith” Theo teaches about the meaning of “faith,” whether it be in false things such as superstitions or true faith in God.  Then he tells the story of Abraham and Sarah following God to the land of Canaan.

In “Loving Obedience”, Theo teaches about ways we can please God by obeying His Word. Then the Bible story of Jonah.

In “Forgiveness,” Belfry, eats the special treats Luther has been saving.  Theo teaches them the meaning of the word forgiveness and then tells the parable of “The Unforgiving Servant.”  He shares about how our sin puts us in debt to God, and how God forgives us.

Our Thoughts

I loved the beautiful animation and solid teaching.  It is rare to find such a well thought out resource for teaching theology to children.  The characters were fun and likeable, and I loved the way Theo was often singing through an old hymn.  My children were immediately drawn in, and their only complaint was that they wanted more to watch. Each episode is about 9-10 minutes long, with three episodes on each of the five DVDs currently available.

In addition to the videos themselves, I was impressed by the free parent guides offered on the website (in addition to coloring and activity pages).  For each episode, the parent guide gives Scripture references for the verses used in the video, as well as discussion questions, a “family activity,” and 6 days of family devotions. These would be a wonderful resource for families looking for ways to spend time together in the Bible.

If you’re interested in checking out the Theo series, the 5-minute bonus episode “Good News” is available to download for free.  Other episodes are available for purchase on DVD or as downloads from the Theo website.  I hope you enjoy Theo as much as we did!

Five Volumes Available  Banner

DISCLAIMER: I received the digital downloads of the three episode from God is Love for free in exchange for my honest review.

If He Had Not Come (Book Review)

If He Had Not Come

If I had not come…” John 15:22

What would the world be like today in Jesus had not come?  That’s the question posed by David Nicholson in the book If He Had Not Come, based on a classic Christmas story by Nan F. Weeks originally published in an anthology back in 1938.  Nicholson first heard the story almost 30 years ago and enjoyed sharing it with his family year after year.  Now he has brought it back into print so a new generation of children and their families can reflect on all that Jesus brought to the world as they celebrate his birth at Christmas time.

coverIf He Had Not Come is the story of a boy named Bobby who falls asleep on Christmas Eve whispering the words of John 15:22, which he read with his dad before bedtime: “If I had not come…” Before he knows it he hears a voice calling him to wake up, and as he heads downstairs in anticipation of celebrating Christmas morning, he finds that his world has changed.  There are no decorations and no presents to be seen.  He runs outside to look around, and as he walks though town he notices that no stores are closed for the holiday and many things are missing: his church, the Children’s Home, the hospital, the homeless shelter… even the New Testament in his Bible.  As he searches, all he find are signs with the words “If I had not come.”

Bobby sat down, stunned at the thought of a world without Jesus.  “No Christmas, no churches,” he whispered, “no places to help people who are sick, homeless, or in need…”

Then he hears the sound of church bells and wakes up rejoicing as he recognizes “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  The story ends with his prayer of thanks as he acknowledges, “You are the very best Christmas present anyone can have.”  The final pages of the book contain suggestions for family (or Sunday School class) discussions to help children think more deeply about the story.

If He Had Not Come is recommended for ages 6 and up, so I found a time when I could read it just with Ian.  Even at 6, I’m not sure he was fully ready for it.  He wasn’t very responsive to the story, and my attempts to engage him in any sort of discussion fell flat.  Still, I think it’s an important addition to our Christmas library, and I expect in a few years we’ll be able to go a lot deeper, once the story has really settled with him.  I have no doubt that fruit will eventually grow from the seeds planted by reading the book each year.

As a parent, I appreciate the final pages by Josh Mulvihill (a children’s pastor), who goes into more depth about all the ways Christ’s life has impacted our world.  Not only would we be lacking many universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations, we would be spiritually lost.  A page on “The Gospel Message” spells out the A-B-C (Admit-Believe-Confess) model of repenting and receiving God’s great gift of salvation.

If He Had Not Come reminds us what Christmas is really about, and I think families will benefit from pondering its important message in the midst of celebrating the birth of Christ.

Available in hardcover ($18.99) or e-book ($3.99).

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“Home-Management” in the Little Years–A Hopeless Battle?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted for Mentoring Monday, but I really do want to finish this book, despite the challenges life has thrown my way recently.  So here I am, diving back in.

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 16 (part 2)

WholeHeartedI’m trying to decided whether I love this chapter or hate it.  Organization has always been one of my strengths, (though I have never been able to tame the clutter-beast, and I’ve almost given up trying), but having four small children has definitely turned managing my home into one battle after another.

Right now, I feel like I’m barely able to stay afloat.  I have 4 baskets of laundry that have been sitting in various parts of the house waiting to get put away for days.  (The big boys have actually taken care of theirs; this is just for the little ones, my husband and me.  So there’s one victory.)

My Bible lies open in the bathroom, but I’ve only managed to get through 2 chapters this month.  I spend time in the Word each day in our family devotions and in preparing to teach in children’s ministry, but my personal reading habit has fallen apart.

Our dining room table is covered with a board game that’s been in progress for days as well as stacks of books and stuff for a home improvement project I started but then abandoned when I hit a roadblock.

Sometimes it feels like my life is never going to be back in order.  So when I read this passage on page 306, I probably should have felt encouraged, but one sentence reached out, grabbed me, and wouldn’t let go:

Life will always be unpredictable–your schedule will fall apart, homeschooling will occasionally grind to a halt, and the house will at times seem like someone detonated a megaton stuff-bomb inside your walls.  If that puts your heart in conflict with the Lord, then no amount of organization, planning, or scheduling is going to make you the godly homeschooling mother that you envisioned becoming.  If, though, you are trusting God and depending upon his grace, you can still be the mother you want to be, which includes managing your family and your home.  If you are regularly seeking God, strengthening your faith in the Word, letting the Spirit control your attitude, and being as faithful as you know how to be, then you can be assured you are fulfilling your role as a mother and as a family manager.  God is not asking any more of you than your faith and your faithfulness. (emphasis mine)

As I said, I suppose that as a whole this paragraph should be encouraging, but that sentence I put in bold is what killed it for me.  It seems like such an impossible ideal.  If only I could be doing all those things!  If those are the bare minimums and I’m not even managing that, how on earth can I hope to every win this war against the chaos that threatens to overwhelm our home?

I keep telling myself to give it another 5 years (!) and it will no longer be quite such an impossible task.  When I have an 11-year old, a 10-year old, an 8-year old, and a 6 year-old, even if we have more young children, things will be so different.  In the last year my two oldest have become so capable of helping with a lot of things, and I feel like surely we must be on the rebound from the hardest point, when all we had were just lots of little ones.

Right?  (Don’t tell me if I’m not.)

I look around at our very “lived-in” home and cling to the hope that I won’t always be tripping over blocks as I stumble across the house for the 4th time in the middle of the night to help who ever needs me (for bathroom trips, refilled water cups, or sick buckets, which all seem to be needed on a fairly regular basis, all in between feedings from the 1-year old who just can’t seem to sleep through the night without nursing at least once).  I won’t always have to do a quick scan of the house so I can grab the toilet-training toddler’s underwear off the kitchen floor when I realize our extended family has stopped by.  I won’t always be clinging to every last minute of nap time so I can have a moment to myself (which I rarely spend cleaning).

I want to be “regularly seeking God, strengthening [my] faith in the Word, letting the Spirit control [my] attitude, and being as faithful as [I] know how to be.”  I really do.  But in this season of life, that doesn’t look at all like I think it should.  Like I want it to.

Thank you, Lord, for your grace.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

The Legend of St. Nicholas by Dandi Daley Mackall (Book Review)
I recently was given chance to review The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall, and since our youngest son shares his name, I jumped at the chance to teach my children a little about the Nicholas of many years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised at this sweet, simple story about the man whose legacy has become so entwined with modern celebrations of Christmas.

The book begins with a boy named Nick who is reluctantly taken shopping to find gifts for his brothers (though he’s hoping to have enough money to buy something for himself as well).  While he’s shopping, he overhears the store Santa telling some children the story of St. Nicholas, who found great joy in using his wealth to give gifts to others.  Before Nick goes home, he not only buys presents for his brothers but also uses the remainder of his money to buy toys for poor children.

It’s a sweet story, and there were many things I liked about it.  Most of the details about St. Nicholas are based on traditional stories passed down about him (like his travels, the wealth he inherited from his parents, and his gift of dowries for three sisters who could not afford to get married).  I loved the way Nicholas turned to God for guidance in a way that was very natural and not at all contrived.

That night, Nicholas talked things over with God.  “Father, could this be the work you have for me?”  As if in answer, the church bells rang.  Nicholas remembered what his mother had said about the wise kings bringing gifts to baby Jesus.  He thought of what his father said about Jesus being the greatest gift.  What better time to give gifts than on Jesus’ birthday!

The illustrations by Richard Cowdrey are beautiful, but I was a little puzzled by the choice to make the pictures from St. Nicholas’ life look like they were set in the 1800’s.  The scene with a fancy horse-drawn carriage and his father in a top hat looked like it belonged in a story set in the time of Charles Dickens rather than St. Nicholas, who lived about 300 years after Christ.  Aside from this anachronism, however, I thought the illustrations added to the charm of the book.  I especially liked the pages at the end when the story transitions back the the present, and you flip from a picture of Nicholas to one of Nick with an identical expression, capturing how the vision of giving had been passed on.

Nicholas and Nick

He could imagine how good it must have felt to secretly give his friends what they had wanted most.  Nick had almost forgotten why people gave presents at Christmas.  He wanted to feel that same joy of giving.

I thought this book did a great job of teaching an important lesson without sounding preachy.  My children mostly enjoyed it because it was about two boys who shared a name with their little brother, but I am glad to have it as a part of our Christmas library to remind them of the joy that comes from focusing on giving gifts rather than receiving them.

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Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls DVD (Crew Review)

New Liberty Video ReviewImagine facing execution for teaching your children how to say the Lord’s prayer in the language you speak at home.  As I watched Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls from New Liberty Videos, I learned that back in the Dark Ages, mothers faced this very threat.  Though many Christians today have multiple Bibles on their shelves, we sometimes forget that most people who have followed God over the ages have not been so fortunate.  The Scriptures are a treasure with a fascinating history, and this DVD offers viewers a glimpse at the Bible’s intriguing past.

What is it?

sMysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls ($19.95) contains video footage from 3 lectures.  Contrary to what the title indicates, only the first segment is actually about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  However, all three are about different topics related to the Bible, its history, and how it came to be passed on to us over the past few thousand years.  Each segment is only about 20 minutes long, so while none of them go into great depth about their topics, they do provide enticing introductions that leave the viewer wanting to learn more.  The format is simple, without flashy graphics, but the information is fascinating enough all on its own.

This DVD would be most interesting to teenagers and adults, so I didn’t watch it with my children (though they did sit with me as I watched the final segment and appeared to be paying attention).  I watched each of the three segments separately since they are all on different topics.

1. Dead Sea Scrolls

In the first segment, Joel Lampe teaches all about the scrolls found at Qumran: the contents, the materials used in creating them, the languages used, as well as a bit about the geography and history of the region.  Did you know that only about 25% of the writings found were from Scripture?  The scrolls contained many other writings, but there were pieces found containing writing from every book of the Old Testament except Esther.

When I hear the word “scrolls,” I picture large pieces of parchment rolled up, but in actuality, the Dead Sea Scrolls consist of 19,000 pieces that scholars have had to carefully reassemble into scrolls.  Lampe tells about the work that has been done on the scrolls since their discovery back in the late 1940’s.  As technology has advanced, scholars have been able to learn more.  For example, infrared technology has allowed them to study writing that was previously impossible to make out, and DNA technology has allowed them to match fragments of the same animal skin parchments rather than relying on visual clues alone to piece together this enormous puzzle.

2. Hebrew Word Pictures

The second segment on the DVD is lecture by Dr. Frank Seekins that provides a fascinating introduction to ancient Hebrew. He’ll have you reading several Hebrew words in minutes.  Hebrew characters represent both sounds (like our alphabet) and pictures (like Chinese characters), so not only do they tell you how to pronounce the word, they also tell you about its meaning.

As he gets deeper into the meanings of the characters, he shows how truths of the gospel were foretold even in the creation of the Hebrew language long before Christ, as well as focusing on words that talk about the relationship between man and woman.  Dr. Seekins is obviously passionate about what he studies, and anyone with an interest in learning about the Scriptures in the original language will finish this portion of the DVD hungry to learn more.

3. The Forbidden Book

The final lecture on Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is about the history of the English Bible, taught by Dr. Craig Lampe.  Starting back in the time of Constantine, Dr. Lampe traces the history of the Bible from the original Greek text.  He tells of how the Bible was first translated into Latin, which eventually became the only legal language for the Bible, even when it was no longer spoken by most people.  Through the work of men like Wycliffe, Erasmus, Luther, and Tyndale eventually the Scriptures were translated into other languages, allowing thousands to be blessed by the Word of God.

My Thoughts on Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls

I was eager to review this DVD because I love learning more about the Bible.  The only thing that left me disappointed after watching it was that each segment was so short.  I truly appreciated the passion each lecturer showed for his subject, and I felt that 20 minutes from each really only scratched the surface.  I look forward to seeking out further resources to explore the topics further.

New Liberty Videos has many interesting titles available, and other members of the Crew got a chance to review different DVDs, so be sure to visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to find out about those!

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Middlebury Interactive Languages (Crew Review)

Middlebury collageAs someone who’s never managed to master a second language, I am always eager to try out new tools to help my children achieve what I have not.  I think all children are fascinated by the idea of being able to communicate in a new language, and so mine were as excited as I was by the chance to review the first semester of Elementary Spanish 1: Grades K-2 from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

What is it?

Middlebury Interactive Languages offers online courses for students in Kindergarten all the way through high school in Spanish, French, German, and Chinese.  Here are the courses they offer at each level:

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

The courses are semester-based, with the amount of lessons in each depending on the grade level.  You can work at your own pace (as we did), or there is also an option to have the student work with a teacher state-certified teacher fluent in the language, which gives a set schedule.  The teacher option is necessary if the student wants to receive credit for the course.  (Middlebury Interactive is accredited as a virtual course provider.)  The cost of each course is $119/semester without a teacher (add an additional $175 for a teacher, making the course $294 total) per student.

Ian has been working in the first semester of Spanish for grades K-2, which has 35 lessons grouped into 6 units:

  • Greetings
  • Numbers
  • Family
  • Colors
  • School
  • Review

Every unit (besides the review) consists of 6 lessons that contain multiple activities.  Although directions are given in English, the rest of the lessons are almost entirely in Spanish.  They use traditional stories and songs from Spanish-speaking countries to provide context for the vocabulary used in that unit, with various activities to allow students to practice what they are learning.  Each lesson includes at least one opportunity for the student to practice speaking, so a microphone is necessary in order to complete these activities.  (The built-in microphone in my laptop worked perfectly without me having to do anything to set it up.)


How We Used It

I used this primarily with Ian (6), but because we have my computer hooked up to our television, my little ones were able to enjoy the program as well.  They mostly just watched Ian work through the different activities in each lesson, saying the phrases along with him.  Occasionally Elijah (4) wanted to do a lesson too, so I would just show him how to go back through the activities Ian had already completed (which were now gray on the sidebar), but each student really needs their own account.


Ian was able to complete an entire lesson within 5-10 minutes.  If we’d missed a lesson I occasionally had him do more than one in a day, but I found that it to be much more helpful to just have a little bit of exposure each day.

For the most part he was able to work independently.  Each unit has a story to go with it, and the video is only in Spanish, so after Ian had watched it a few times I would pull up the translation and read through it with him to make sure he understood as much as possible, but that was really the only time I got involved.


What We Liked

The independence was one of my favorite things about the course.  After a bit of initial instruction (which the program did a great job taking us through), Ian found it very easy to work through the lessons on his own.  Since my own Spanish is limited, I need a program like Middlebury to expose my children to more of the language than I can share with them.

I was also very grateful for the scripts and translations available for each story.  Although usually the pictures were enough to follow along, on the first story there was one part we just didn’t understand until I pulled up the English translation.  Capture2

Ian didn’t dislike any of the activities, but the recording feature was probably his favorite part because he just loved hearing his voice as he played it back.  I also really liked this feature it because I felt like it addressed the biggest difficulty I have had myself in learning new languages: moving beyond reading the words in my head and actually training my mouth to say them.

What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

We really enjoyed Middlebury Interactive Languages and I really don’t have any major complaints.  There were a few minor things that I would have changed for our family:

  • I would have preferred to have the next activity load automatically once one was completed (though neither of my boys had any trouble just clicking their way through).
  • I understand that each lesson is focusing on key phrases, but I found it frustrating when it said, “Click on the ocelot to see what he said,” and then it only gave us a translation for the key phrase.  I would have liked a complete translation with a way of focusing on the specific vocabulary being learned.
  • The calendar has the lessons scheduled one per day 5 days a week (even though Middlebury recommends only using it twice a week in K-2).  Although we were still able to work on lessons whenever we wanted, I would have appreciated a way to schedule them for Ian according to the pace I had set for him (following their recommendation) rather then just having to tell him to ignore the calendar.

My Overall Impression

I really liked the way Middlebury Interactive Languages lessons were taught.  While some of the material was review for Ian, it was presented differently than he has done it before, and there was still plenty for him to learn.  I would recommend the program to anyone looking for a way to immerse their children in a foreign language.

That said, as the mom of a large family, I am more inclined to select resources that I can use with multiple students.  Without some sort of family subscription I am unlikely to use the program beyond this semester, even though we all really enjoyed the lessons.  If such an option were offered, we would enthusiastically return for more semesters with Middlebury Interactive Languages.

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iWitness Books from Apologia (Crew Review)

Apologia Review
I’m always on the lookout for kid-friendly resources to help my children learn about the Bible, so I jumped at the chance to review three books by Doug Powell from Apologia Educational Ministries: Old Testament iWitness, New Testament iWitness, and iWitness Biblical Archeology.  These books are unlike any others I’ve come across, and it was a delight to get the chance to explore them.

About the books

What makes these 9″x6″ softcover books so unique is the way the information is presented on each page.  Rather than separating the text and illustrations, Powell (an award-winning graphic designer with a Master’s degree in Christian Apologetics) has created beautiful full-color pages that integrate the text, making it appear as handwritten notes on separate scraps of paper, parchment, or the pages of books that are part of the pictures.

This creative presentation makes these books easily accessible for older children (reading level is about age 11 and up) while still being “meaty” enough for adults wanting to learn more about how the Bible as we know it came to exist.  I have always had a fascination with the canon of Scripture and the history of the Bible, but in spite of all I’ve previously read on the subject, there was still plenty of information in these books that was new to me.

Each book sells for $14.00.  Here’s a quick look at what they cover:

Old Testament iWitness

Apologia ReviewOld Testament iWitness tells the story of the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • the history of each book
  • the meticulous process the Jewish scribes used when making copies, ensuring that the original text was passed down over the centuries without change
  • comparison of the “Hebrew Bible” with the Old Testament used by Christians
  • what makes these books “inspired” and why are they included in the canon
  • the Old Testament in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Powell also discusses the writings of the inter-testamental period (between the last books to be written within the Old Testament canon and the books of the New Testament).

New Testament iWitness

Apologia ReviewNew Testament iWitness is just as thorough in its coverage of the New Testament books.  Much has been written in recent years about “other gospels” and early writings that are not included in the canon of Scripture.  Powell goes back to when the individual books of the New Testament were written and discusses how they were used by the church in the first few centuries after Christ.

  • lists drawn up by historical church councils
  • criteria used by early Christians to determine canonicity
  • use in the writings of early church fathers
  • rejected books not included in the canon
  • how the New Testament books were copied over the ages
  • information about various manuscript types and how scholars study them

The book provides a fascinating look at how we have been given the New Testament as we know it today.

iWitness Biblical Archaeology

Apologia Review iWitness Biblical Archeology goes through the chronology of biblical history, discussing archeological evidence that relates to biblical figures, places, and events.

  •  inscriptions about flood stories from various ancient civilizations
  • claims about finding Noah’s Ark
  • descriptions of Old Testament battles
  • copies of biblical manuscripts
  • artifacts from Jesus’ time
  • discussion about the Shroud of Turin

Powell covers all sorts of finds that would be of interest to anyone curious about archeology and how it relates to the Bible.

How We Used It

Ian and I started with Old Testament iWitness (although there’s no need to read them in any particular order).  I read aloud to him during our morning Bible time and we worked through several pages each day (as long as his attention span allowed).  Some of it was beyond his understanding, but at the same time I think it was a good introduction to learning about the canon of the Old Testament.  He may not remember the terms “Septuagint” or “Apocrypha” next week, but now that he’s been exposed, I think he’ll notice them more the next time he hears the words.  He already knew the books of the Old Testament, so he was able to understand the comparisons with the Hebrew Bible pretty well.  We haven’t covered the inter-testamental period in history yet (though we discussed it a bit in our Bible lessons when we moved from the OT to the NT), so that part was new to him.

For this review I was expected to read through these books with Ian, and while that was my original intent, I wasn’t able to get through all of them with him.  There was just too much information packed into these three books for me to get through with a 1st grader in 6 weeks.  Once I realized we weren’t going to get through all three books together I decided to skip New Testament iWitness with Ian and just cover what we could out of iWitness Biblical Archeology.

I found iWitness Biblical Archeology to be a wonderful complement to our study of ancient history.  He found the information about the epic of Gilgamesh interesting because we covered it in history earlier this year, and we’ve learned a lot about Egyptian chronology as a family so he was able to understand that as well.  I will definitely be pulling this book out the next time our history cycle covers the biblical period.  It is full of evidence for the truth of scripture and helps show children tangible evidence for what they read in the Bible.

Because I didn’t have time to read New Testament iWitness with Ian during our review period, I read through it on my own.  I found it to be a faith-building study on the history of the New Testament.  Powell does an excellent job of explaining why certain books are included and others are not.  I especially appreciate his explanation of manuscript families and textual criticism, topics of great importance to me in considering which translation(s) to use with our family.  I look forward to using it with Ian (and my other children) in the future.

My Overall Impression

Overall, I’d say at least half of the material was over Ian’s head as a 6-year old.  The visual format kept his interest fairly well as I read out loud, but I know there was a lot he didn’t understand.  However, that in no way detracts from my enthusiasm for these books.  They may not be a great fit for first grade, but I know we will turn to them over and over again in the years to come.

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