Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

“Stick Figuring” Through the Bible (Crew Review)

Nothing is more important in our homeschool than learning about the Bible, though I don’t often mention it on this blog anymore because we do Bible time in the evenings with Daddy and I don’t think of it as part of our school day.  I often wrestle with wanting to spend more time in the Word with my kids during the day, however, so I was excited when GrapeVine Studies gave us a chance to review their materials for Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob, including a Teacher Book, and two student books: the Level 1 book for ages 6-8 and the Traceable Level 1 book for ages 3-5.

About GrapeVine Studies

Grapevine Studies Review

GrapeVine Studies lead children on a chronological journey through the Bible, guiding them through stick figure drawings for each story to help them learn.  Old Testament 1: Creation to Jacob consists of 12 lessons designed for the whole family (preschool- 8th grade) to go through together, with age-appropriate student books for multiple levels.  The lessons are intended to be done over the course of about 4 days, so this entire book can be used for 12 weeks of school (about 45 separate sessions).

Grapevine Studies Review
As this chart shows, there is an Old Testament Overview designed specifically for preschool and Kindergarten students (the “Beginner” level), but the lessons don’t correspond with the other levels (it only covers Creation to Babel in the first book).  To include younger children in the older ones’ lessons, there is a Traceable Level 1 book that has the drawings already marked with gray lines, which is a really helpful option for families like ours with both preschoolers and older children.

Grapevine Studies ReviewThe Old Testament Overview for Levels 1-4 is presented in four books, with Part 1 covering the major stories of Genesis from Creation to Jacob.  Our family all worked at Level 1, with the boys (2nd grade and Kindergarten) using the regular student book and Arianna (age 3) using the traceable version (which was identical except for the addition of the gray line drawings).  The 82-page student book has blank timeline pages with the names of each story for the students to fill in as the teacher guides them through the lessons.  Level 1 is really just about introducing the major stories and characters, helping the children see how they are all related by creating them a physical timeline so they have a mental frame of reference to place each story in context.  (Older students go deeper with memory verses and additional material for each lesson.)

Teacher involvement is essential.  The main part of each lesson comes from the material in the 100-page teacher book.  That’s where you’ll find the Bible verses to go along with each picture, as well as details about what should be drawn.  The color illustrations are intended to be drawn on a whiteboard for the students to copy as you progress through the lesson.

Our Experience

My kids really looked forward to our Bible lessons with GrapeVine studies.  The boys appreciated the simplicity of the stick figure drawings, and Arianna loved being able to join us for this part of “school.”  (She reminded me every day that we needed to do our Bible lessons!)  She did really well tracing the pictures and then coloring them in, and the boys like sneaking glimpses of her pages to make sure they knew what their figures should look like.  Once or twice they asked me to give them her pages (I received the books in pdf form so we just printed them out, though they are available to purchase as softbound student books as well), but eventually they realized their drawings didn’t need to look exactly like hers, and they had fun being creative.

Once we had done a few lessons and gotten into a groove I enjoyed the lessons as well, but I felt like we got off to a bit of a rocky start.  There was a lot of introductory material in the Teacher Book about the studies themselves and the philosophy behind them, but not a lot of guidance for a newbie wanting jump into teaching.  Although I rarely follow lesson plans exactly, I found myself really wishing the first lesson in particular (which was a little different from all the others because it was solely about the timeline) had a suggested script.  The kids were so excited about doing their pages that they wanted to race through each event, and I wasn’t sure whether to try to explain in picture or just save that for when we did the later lessons on each story.

The kids didn’t seem to notice my floundering, however, and the later lessons did get easier for me to teach as I learned when to make them set their drawing pages aside so we could actually read in our Bibles and talk about each story.  Most of these stories were familiar to Ian and Elijah, so it was a fun way to review them.

I was really glad my kids enjoyed our time with GrapeVine Studies, but it required a bit more preparation and teacher involvement than I’m ready to give at this point in our family’s journey.  I do love the idea of everyone being able to participate at their own level, however, so I will definitely keep these studies in mind once the babies are old enough to join us.

Grapevine Studies Review
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Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale (Crew Book Review)

I’ve got a little guy who is absolutely enthralled with numbers, so I jumped when Ann McCallum Books gave us a chance to review Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale.  It teaches about the Fibonacci sequence: a pattern of numbers that occurs throughout nature (written about in 1202 by an Italian man nicknamed Fibonacci).  In the sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0…1…1…2…3…5…8…13…21…34… You get idea.

Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale is a 32-page softcover book based on an idea Fibonacci himself used, about pairs of rabbits that reproduce according to this pattern.  In the book a town called Chee becomes overrun by rabbits due to a wizard’s spell, and when the infamous Pied Piper is unable to get rid of them, a clever little girl named Amanda looks at how the growing number of rabbits each day follows a specific pattern.  Once she figures it out, she is able to break the spell and lead the rabbits out of town.  (The original pair of rabbits are named “Fib” and “Knot,” so in the years to come, people talk about “The Tale of Fib and Knot in Chee,” which becomes “The Tale of Fibonacci,” a clever way to help children remember the name of the number sequence.)

This book was a cute and clever way to introduce the idea of Fibonacci numbers.  I read it with two of my children who showed interest when they spotted the book after it arrived.  Arianna (3) enjoyed the story just for its own sake (especially the colorful illustrations by Gideon Kendall), but Elijah, my 5-year old numberphile, realized there was more going on.  He loved the details in the illustrations that showed how Amanda began trying to figure out the pattern.DSCN0785


The book makes the pattern so clear, it’s easy to find the wonder of the Fibonacci sequence, especially when you read the last page, which gives examples of where Fibonacci numbers can be found in nature.  Though the book doesn’t mention God, I think it’s a great tool for talking about how our world shows evidence of intelligent design, and I know we’ll read this story over and over in the years to come.  I think children of all ages, even those typically “beyond” picture books, will enjoy this story because of the fascination factor.

Ann McCallum has written several books to help children find delight in learning, not just about math, but several other subjects as well.  Members of the Crew received various titles to review, so if you want to bring a little extra fun to your school day, be sure to check out their reviews by clicking on the banner below.

Ann McCallum Books Review
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When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Book Review)

When Lightning Struck cover

If you’ve read more than one of my blog posts, you’ve probably caught onto the fact that I love history.  I love teaching it.  I love reading about it.  And I love finding great books to help my kids fall in love with it as well.

So when I heard about When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther, a new book by Danika Cooley, I knew I was going to have to check it out, especially since we’ll be covering the Reformation later this year.


When Lightning Struck! begins with his years at school studying law, followed by his dramatic decision to become a monk.  Martin feels the weight of sin acutely, but the teachings of the church do little to comfort him.  Determined to earn his salvation, he practices self-denial: starving himself, beating himself, and sleeping on the hard wooden floor (or even in the snow) to try to pay for his sins. Not only does Martin struggle with knowledge of his salvation, he is dismayed by the corruption and unbiblical practices he observes within the Church.

After receiving a Bible, Martin immerses himself in Scripture, and he at last comes to realize that Jesus has already paid for them. His lectures at the University draw grace-hungry crowds—and eventually the wrath of Rome.  Troubled by the Church’s practice of selling indulgences, Martin posts his now famous Ninety-Five Theses to open a public forum to discuss the matter, certain that the Pope and other wise religious leaders will change their position once they see the objections from Scripture laid out plainly.

The idea that theology should come from Scripture alone does not sit well with the powerful church leaders, and after Martin refuses to recant his position he is declared a heretic.  Others, however, are emboldened by Martin’s stand against the church, and a great Reformation sweeps through Germany and then other parts of Europe.  Martin spends the rest of his life trying to help maintain unity within the Protestant church, though at times he and other leaders are deeply divided over doctrine.

About the Book

Danika Cooley does not shy away from Martin Luther’s harsher side, but attempts to present an accurate portrait of the man known as the “Father of the Reformation.”  In no way does this book present Martin as a perfect man.  His temper flares often, and he stubbornly sets himself upon anyone whose interpretation of Scripture differs from his own.   I love what Cooley writes in her note at the end of the book:

Would Luther have been effective had he been a gentler, kinder soul in our contemporary estimation? No one can say. Martin Luther certainly didn’t think so. He believed God chose him because of his fiery spirit. We can trust that God is sovereign over history (p.233).

I was already familiar with Danika Cooley because of Bible Road Trip, her amazing Bible study curriculum for Preschool through grade 12.  My experience using BRT convinced me that she is a kindred spirit who shares my passion for teaching about both the Bible and what God has done in history, and that passion comes through in her presentation of Martin Luther’s life.  While the material has been painstakingly researched (as evidenced by abundant footnotes), Cooley makes sure that she tells an exciting story, with plenty of dialogue to move the story along through the entire 265-page book.

Her thorough research and enthusiasm for her subject matter are contagious, so I was excited that on her website you can find a unit study for grades 7-12 (free for subscribers) and a discussion guide (suitable for grades 3-12) to go along with When Lightning Struck! to help students get even more out of the story.

unit study   discussion guide

Final thoughts

I read through When Lightning Struck! on my own for this review in order to see if it was something I’d want to use later this year with Ian.  While I think he’d enjoy the story, I’ve decided to hold off on it for now.  I think he would have trouble understanding parts of it (such as the extreme measures Martin goes to in order to try to earn his salvation, and the issue of transubstantiation that gets Martin so upset in the later part of the story).  There are so many important discussions that can come out of this book, so I think I’m going to save it for a later study of the Reformation.  Then Elijah will be able to join us and we can enjoy deeper conversations about faith, grace, and the legacy of Martin Luther.


More Brinkman Adventures! (Crew Review)

Brinkman Adventures 3

If you love hearing about God’s work around the world, you’ll want to check out The Brinkman Adventures. They recently let us review Season 3 of their audio dramas, and there was definitely some excitement in our house.  They’ve been a favorite in our family ever since we discovered them when we reviewed their last season.

About The Brinkman Adventures

The “Brinkmans” are a large family with a passion for missions.  They share stories from missionaries around the world, as well as learning how to reach out to share Jesus themselves.  The series is actually produced by a real family, with each of the children providing the voices for the children in the recordings (along with professional voiceover artists for the other roles).  Most of the episodes are based on real stories, which you can read more about on the website.

Each season has 12 episodes on 4 CDs (also available as a download) for over 5 hours of entertainment.  Even if you haven’t listened to previous episodes, it’s easy to jump right in and enjoy, but if you’re like us, you’re going to be hungry for more and want to go back and listen to the other stories as well!

About Season 3

Brinkman Season 3Season 3 (episodes 25-36) sees the Brinkmans continuing to support the spread of God’s kingdom. Along the way we meet many memorable and inspiring characters based on real people:

  • A missionary named Tomás who smuggles tens of thousands of Bibles into dangerous countries
  • A shy little girl who learns to trust in God’s strength as she follows His leading and becomes a spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child
  • A family of missionaries who face difficult circumstances as they work to translate the Bible into the local language, an answer to the prayers of a local Christian man
  • John Benti, a missionary introduced in a precious season who shares more inspiring stories of God’s providence for his ministry in Hong Kong
  • Steve Saint, a famous missionary (and son of Nate Saint, martyred with Jim Elliot and 3 other young men), who actually plays himself in these recordings.
  • Some of the Waodani tribe Steve’s family worked with in Ecuador
  • Brave young men sharing the gospel in lands controlled be the Taliban

This is my favorite season so far.  I really enjoyed all the episodes, but we especially loved the ones with Steve Saint.  He has an amazing life story, from losing his father as a boy, to ministering to the very people who killed him, to inventing and helping to produce many products to help missionaries around the world.  Ian was especially impressed with the “flying car,” and I had to laugh at the timing of this review, because the girl next door to us told Ian her dad was fixing their car so it could fly, and we’ve had numerous discussions about whether or not that’s really possible.  That storyline led us to the Brinkman Adventures website to learn more about I-Tec, the company Steve Saint started.

Our Thoughts

Our entire family loves The Brinkman Adventures.  7-year old Ian is the biggest fan, because he has some sort of audio book or radio drama playing constantly in his room.  He has been eagerly anticipating Season 3, and it exceeded all our expectations.  Even my younger children have fun listening as we drive about town, and my husband and I especially appreciate having something we all can enjoy together while helping expand our children’s understanding of how God is working around the world.  We love hearing the Brinkman family interacting with each other, growing in their faith, and most of all, learning about God’s faithfulness to His children as they minister around the world.

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review
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Nutcracker from Maestro Classics (Crew Review)

Nutcracker Review
One of the first things I included when I began schooling with my oldest child was composer study and time getting familiar with famous pieces of classical music.  When we discovered Maestro Classics, I knew this was a company I would be turning to again and again in the years to come, and indeed, we have several of their CDs that get played over and over both at home and in the car.  When I heard about their newest release, The Nutcracker, I couldn’t wait to hear it and was ecstatic to be given a copy to review.

About The Nutcracker

Nutcracker coverThe music director of Maestro Classics, Stephen Simon, has created a sort of “abridged” Nutcracker, drawing from the entire ballet (not just the popular Suite) to give children a one-hour version that allows them to experience the beauty and creativity of Tchaikovsky’s music without taxing young attention spans.

Jim Weiss brings his acclaimed storytelling skills to the wonderful story.  After a brief introduction to The Nutcracker, he launches into the story itself, giving enough narration to help move the plot along without overshadowing the music.

As with their other recordings, Maestro Classics has provided free curriculum guide to go along with The Nutcracker.  It is full of ideas for using the CD as a launching pad for studies in science, math, language arts, and much more.  It also include several helpful links.

Our Experience

Maestro Classics aims to create recordings in the tradition of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and they have certainly succeeded with this offering.  There were several moments as we listened when I was reminded of that old favorite.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  I grew up loving ballet, playing the music from the Nutcracker Suite on the piano, and enjoying both live and video performances every Christmas.  I want my children to feel the same kinship with the music that I have always felt, and this recording will ensure that it finds a place in their hearts.

I was a little worried that the one-hour adaptation would leave me feeling like I’d missed out, but Simon has done an admirable job of creating a seamless piece that leaves little wanting.  I do wish the Dance of the Reed Pipes had been more complete, but aside from that nothing jumped out at me as being left out of the original score (though obviously quite a bit more had been cut to fit it all within an hour).

One thing I have appreciated about previous Maestro Classics albums is the background information about both the music and the composer, and I was a little disappointed to find that aspect missing from The Nutcracker.  This CD is pure, delightful entertainment, and my children enjoyed it all the more for simply telling the story.  It is beautiful all on its own, but I think it would be even better followed by a live performance of the ballet, and I hope we can find one to attend this Christmas.  I know my children will enjoy it more than ever thanks to this recording.  It is true storytelling magic and a wonderful addition to our holiday season!

Maestro Classics Review

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The Ultimate Homeschool Planner (Crew Review)

Ultimate Homeschool Planner
One thing I have learned through my years of teaching both in a classroom setting and at home is that good planning makes things run so much more smoothly than when I try to fly by the seat of my pants.  I’ve developed my own systems of organization that work pretty well for our family, but when I heard about The Ultimate Homeschool Planner available from Apologia Educational Ministries I decided to take the opportunity to review it.  I was curious to see if it would help me consider new things and help fine tune our well-oiled machine.

About The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

3 Planners Collage
Right away, this planner, designed by homeschool veteran Debra Bell, impressed me just with its physical features:

  • plastic cover for durability (available in the three colors shown above)
  • spiral bound so it stays on the page you want
  • pockets on both inside covers for stashing papers
  • school year “at a a glance” calendars from 2015-16 through 2022-2023
  • weekly planning pages that allow you to choose how you want to organize your children’s work (by days of the week, subject, or individual student)
  • room to plan for up to 6 children

UHP Table of Contents 001As I got into the planner, however, I realized it is about more than just jotting down weekly lesson plans.  It guides you through planning on three levels: yearly, monthly, and weekly.  A yearly planning retreat (4-8 hours), one planning session each month and about 30 minutes a week can make the difference between thriving and surviving, and this planner has specific pages for working through all those times.

Beyond lesson planning, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner also helps you focus on matters of the heart:

  • places for Bible reading plans
  • character and academic goals for individual children
  • places to record prayer requests and gratitude

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is a wonderful stand-alone resource for moms, but it is also designed to be used in coordination with The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students (designed for 4th-8th graders) and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens (for 7th-12th graders).

My Thoughts

There are so many things to love about this planner.  My favorite is the One Year Planning Grid, which allows me to see the entire year on one 2-page spread.


It’s a place for marking holidays, vacations, days when Daddy’s off work, birthdays,  the kids classes, etc. to help me quickly see how our school year is going to look.  Mapping all that out helped me set more realistic expectations for milestones I’d like the boys to reach in various subjects.

I also really liked the flexibility of the weekly lesson plan pages.  There are enough to cover 48 weeks, so it works well regardless of whether we choose to follow a traditional school year.  I chose to make daily checklists for each child, though with Arianna (who’s only 3) I didn’t plan anything but rather jotted down notes about what she did that day that was preschool-related.


I was impressed by the thoroughness of Debra Bell’s system and enjoyed getting familiar with it.  I’m not sure it will replace what I’ve been doing, simply because I prefer keeping my plans on the computer so I don’t have to re-write everything each week. However, for people who prefer a pen and paper method of planning, I would highly recommend The Ultimate Homeschool Planner.  

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
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Helpful Resources from IEW (Crew Review)

IEW Review

Although I have heard so many good things about the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) over the last few years, it wasn’t until a few months ago that we began using some of their materials in our homeschool.  I have been impressed with everything we’ve purchased, so I was thrilled to get a chance a review three resources we’d not yet explored: the Timeline of Classics, the Teaching with Games Set, and A Word Write Now.

About Timeline of Classics

As a lover of history and literature, the Timeline of Classics by Gail Ledbetter is an absolute treasure!  This 192-page spiral bound book (also available as a PDF download) goes through history in chronological order, listing resources (classic literature, biographies, plays, films, and audio recordings) that are set in each time period. The pages are single sided and laid out like a spreadsheet, making it easy to go through the details for each entry. Although the book is broken up into four major eras (Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and the Modern World), each entry gives more specific years and/or subjects to correspond with the timeline, along with the title, author, and approximate age/ability level, which make it really easy to find resources to go along with what we’re studying.


(See website for sample pages, including the table of contents.)

I found it helpful that rather than separating listings by grade-level appropriateness, Ledbetter puts everything together and indicates the approximate targeted age (E-elementary, M-middle school, H-high school).  I find that Ian is often able to handle literature that is indicated for older children, while still enjoying some of the easier reading as well, so I appreciate having everything in one place.

This book is the kind of thing I could see myself putting hours into creating, yet now all the work is done for me!  Gail Ledbetter actually put this together herself as a gift to her children, serving both as a record of their homeschooling years and as a resource for future reference.  It not only helps me plan our current lessons but also gives me ideas for things I don’t want to miss for the next time we go through our history cycle.  There’s enough space in the margins to additions of my own, and I image our copy is going to get quite beat up in the years to come as I personalize it and make notes about what we’ve done or want to do.

About Teaching With Games

The Teaching with Games Set by Lori Verstegen includes both a 117-page spiral bound book (single sided pages) and a 3-disc set comprised of two workshop DVDs (130 minutes total) and a CD-ROM containing the PDF e-book and bonus materials (games and activities for teaching about alliteration and similes/metaphors using quotations from classic literature, taken from an e-book entitled Dress-Ups, Decorations, and Delightful Diversions, also from IEW).

Most of the games presented in the book and the workshop DVDs are designed to be used to help teach almost any subject.  You simply take the vocabulary, concepts, facts, etc. from your current lessons and use them to create the games, allowing students to interact with the material in a way that helps with learning retention.  Instructions are given for using the games in both a classroom setting with a large number of students or in at home with just mom and one student, so it’s easy to adapt them to meet your specific situation.

The book is broken up into five sections (plus an appendix):

I. “No-Prep” Games

II. Matching Card Games

III. Question Games

IV. Math Facts Games

V. “Make as You Teach” Games

The DVDs cover the games using the same sections (I and II on Disc 1, and III, IV, and V on Disc 2), so it’s easy to follow along in the book.  The DVDs provide a great introduction and a way to see the games in action, but the book is the most essential part of the Teaching with Games Set.  Several of the sections contain samples, so there are dozens of pages of games that are all ready to use if you’re studying those topics. Simply copy the pages and cut out the cards or game boards and you’re good to go.

As I’ve written before, Elijah our most enthusiastic game-player, so I had him in mind when I took on this review.  However, Ian too was excited to try out many of the games in the book and enjoyed going through the sample games.  He didn’t seem to notice (or care) that he was learning and was more than happy to be allowed to play games during “school time.”

We found several games that work well for our family right now. I especially appreciated games like “Academic 20 Questions” that allow us to review lessons in the car as we drive about town. I’ve scheduled a couple weeks in December where we’ll take a break from our regular math lessons and have some fun with the math facts games from Section IV, and we’ll be using several of the games to practice the vocabulary words we’re studying in our writing class this fall.

About A Word Write Now

The only resource we were sent that is specifically about writing, A Word Write Now is similar to a thesaurus in that it provides alternatives for writers searching for just the right word.  However, rather than simply listing words alphabetically, this “thematic thesaurus” by Loranna Schwacofer groups words to make it easy for students to find what they are looking for.

There are four sections to this 106-page spiral bound book:

SECTION A – Character Traits

This section is a powerful resource for writers wanting to develop characters in their creative writing.  Twenty-three character traits (from Anger to Wisdom) each are given a two-page spread that includes a definition; thoughts by the author on that trait; excerpts from classical literature portraying each one; and lists of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs that can be used to describe someone demonstrating that trait.  There is also room for students to write in additional words they want to remember to go along with each trait, as well as an open form that can be copied if the student wants to create their own resource pages to go along with additional traits.


SECTION B – Descriptive Words

Learning to include adjectives has been one of my boys’ favorite parts of their IEW lessons this year, and this section is full of helpful lists to help them find the words they want.  It includes lists of words used to describe appearance, color, size, time, temperature, texture, and shape.  Depending on the topic, each 2-page spread contains lists of related nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and/or adverbial phrases, as well as excerpts from classic literature and a place for students to add their own words to the list.


SECTION C – Words for Movement and the Senses

Similar to the lists in the previous section, these pages contain words for feet, hands, hearing, seeing, smelling, speaking, and thinking.

SECTION D – Appendix

The final section of the book contains additional lists such as “Transition Words Not Related to Time” and “Definitions and Examples of Literary Devices.”  I especially liked the pages with teaching tips for “playing with words” to help students become familiar with A Word Write Now and to practice using the new words they come across in these lists.

I already had a copy of this book that was included in a package of materials I purchased from IEW a few months ago, but we hadn’t had a chance to get into it until now.  At first I had considered passing along the extra copy to a friend, but now I’m leaning toward keeping both so that the boys each have one to use as they work on their writing assignments.

Final Thoughts

All three of these resources live up to the high standard I have come to expect from Institute for Excellence in Writing products.  I know we will return to them again and again through the years as my older boys progress in their studies and as the little ones join them on our homeschooling journey.  If you’d like to see what other Crew members thought of these resources or a few others from IEW, click the banner below to find their reviews.

IEW Review
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Little Boy DVD (Crew Review)

A few months ago, I shared about, a company devoted to providing quality Christian entertainment while helping support ministries in Turkey.  They recently gave us a chance to review another DVD, Little Boy, and once again we were truly blessed by their generosity.

About Little Boy

Little Boy DVDLittle Boy takes place on the home front during World War II.  7-year old Pepper Busbee is unusually short, and he is looked down on by pretty much everyone in his small town of O’Hare, California.  The other kids bully him, and the adults all seem to just ignore him, and everyone calls him by the disparaging nickname “Little Boy.”  The one bright spot in his life, however, is his relationship with his father.  They call each other “partner,” and his dad continually lifts him up, calling him a hero.  They even develop a motto: “Do you believe you can do this?”  With his dad’s encouragement, Pepper believes he can do pretty much anything.

When his father leaves to fight in the war, Pepper says a teary good-bye to his only friend.  His dad is later reported missing in action, believed to have been taken prisoner.  Inspired by his hero, a magician, and a sermon at church on the power of faith, Pepper seeks to “move mountains” to bring his father home.  “How can I get bigger faith?” The priest, in response, gives him an ancient list of tasks to complete, including loving his enemy.  Pepper reaches out to a Japanese man who has recently been released from an internment camp.  He and his brother had formerly been quite hostile and abusive to the man, but eventually he and Pepper become friends.  Hashimoto teaches him the story of a samurai who believed that “Nothing was more powerful than the will… the will to face one’s fear and act.”  Pepper finally misses his father so much he can’t take it anymore, and his determination and faith do indeed move mountains.  (I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s definitely worth watching!)

Our Experience

Little Boy is rated PG-13, so I watched this film with just my husband.  While I will definitely wait until my boys are older, it’s a movie I do want to share with them later on.  It could be a great discussion starter on a number of topics: bullying, prejudice, loving your enemy, faith, heroism, World War II, the atomic bomb…

There was no profanity or sexual content aside from some mild flirting, but there were several scenes with violence, both on the battlefield and back at home.  The scenes I found most disturbing were those depicting prejudice against Hashimoto.  “If I could, I’d smash every Jap with my bare hands!” yells Pepper at one point before the two become friends.  His hatred is encouraged by his older brother, and it’s hard to watch such a young boy spewing such vitriol.

Overall, however, I found Pepper’s character endearing, and I found myself in tears several times as my heart ached for him, probably because he’s right around my son Ian’s age and I would hate seeing him face similar trials.  The film itself is a well-written, powerful glimpse into the emotions of a young boy facing unusually difficult circumstances.  I highly recommend it for families with older children, and I know it’s a film our family will be revisiting in the future as our children mature.

I’m so thankful to for the opportunity to review Little Boy, and I look forward to checking out some of their other family-friendly DVDs.  To read what other Crew Members thought of Little Boy, as well as several other titles, click the banner below to get to their reviews. Review No 2
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Revisiting Middlebury Interactive Languages (Crew Review)

Foreign language is the only subject I feel completely unqualified for teaching my children at home.  It’s really hard to teach something you don’t know, especially when your pupils are quicker at learning it than you!  I’ve tried a few different ways of teaching Spanish, and one of my favorites is an online course from Middlebury Interactive Languages.  Last year Ian went through the first semester of Elementary Spanish 1: Grades K-2, and we recently got to review the second semester as well.

About Middlebury Interactive Languages

Middlebury Interactive Languages offers a wide range of online classes for various ages, giving students a chance to study Spanish, French, Chinese, or German (not every language is available at every level–see chart below).

Screenshot (37)

Students can complete the course one of two ways: independently or interacting with a state-certified teacher fluent in the language. (The second option costs more but is necessary for the student to receive official credit for the class from Middlebury Interactive Languages.)  The courses are designed to cover one semester (the K-2 course contain 35 lessons per semester), but students using the independent option can work at their own pace and have up to six months to complete the lessons.

About Elementary Spanish 1: Grades K-2

Elementary Spanish 1: Grades K-2 is an engaging way for young students to interact with the language.  Each lesson consists of several activities that involve listening to traditional stories from Spanish-speaking countries, matching vocabulary words and pictures, and recording themselves speaking the words they are learning.  (You do need a microphone for this feature, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  Our’s laptop’s built-in mic worked perfectly.)

word match

The first semester (which Ian completed last year) has lessons grouped into 6 units:

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

Ian is now about halfway through the second semester, which includes the following units:

  • Body
  • Animals
  • Calendar
  • Food
  • Descriptions
  • Review

The units do not build upon one another.  They’re essentially just ways to build vocabulary related to different topics.

Our Experience

Although these courses are designed for one student, we usually have our school computer displaying on our family room television, allowing all the children to follow along and learn.  All of them really enjoy the program and often want to repeat the stories over and over.  I appreciate that the stories are told completely in Spanish, even though there’s no way children going through this course will understand every word.  They learn to recognize the key vocabulary words as they go through the lessons.  English translations are available for all the stories, and Ian always asks me to read them after the first time he hears the story in Spanish.  Other than that, he is able to complete the lessons completely on his own.

The one thing I think would improve the program would be more chance to use the words and phrases the students have already learned.  It’s a great way to build vocabulary, but I don’t feel like Ian had to retain anything except when he came to the final review unit.

Overall the entire program is a hit, but Ian’s favorite part is definitely the speaking portion.  There’s just something fascinating for kids about recording their own voices and hearing them played back, especially when they’re speaking new words in a foreign language!  I love listening to them pick up the nuances of Spanish pronunciation.  I think this is such an important part of learning a new language, and it’s something impossible for a non-native speaker like myself to teach them.

If you want want to find out more about the different languages and grade levels in other courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages, check out their website and then read some of the other Crew reviews by clicking on the banner below!

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
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Family Games from USAopoly (Crew Review)

“Daddy, will you play a game with me?”  It’s Elijah’s nightly request.  So when we were given the opportunity to review two games from USAopoly, he was probably the most excited out of all of our game-loving family.  Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone and Wonky:The Crazy Cubes Card Game are welcome additions to our growing collection of games we can enjoy together.

Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone

Tapple is exercise for the brain!  The object is to think of words in a given category that begin with each of the letters on the game board.  Each player has ten seconds (the timer is part of the game board and requires two AA batteries) to think of a word that starts with a letter that has not been used yet, then push down that letter and hit the timer to start the next person’s turn.  If you can’t think of something in that category before the timer goes off, you’re out.  The categories (with two levels of difficulty) are listed on cards that fit neatly into the bottom of the game board when the game’s not being played.

Tapple Details
  • Ages 8+ (our older boys, 5 and 7, also enjoyed playing)
  • 2-8 players
  • 10-20 minutes to play (or as long as you want to keep going!)
Our Tapple Experience

playing TappleMy boys both loved Tapple so much they wanted to take it to a family party, where we taught our cousins, Grandma, and Auntie how to play.  It was a great way to bring all ages together for some fun rather than everyone going off on their own.

The box says no spelling required, and for the most part that’s true.  We had a few incidents where one of the kids tried to use words for the wrong letters (like pressing down the “s” key for “celery”), but other than that the only real limitation is vocabulary.  That’s where my boys tended to get tripped up and the “ages 8+” guideline makes sense.  We all enjoyed the game so much, however, that we just modified the rules a bit when playing with only them.

Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game

Wonky is a fun building game that might drive a perfectionist crazy.  It consists of nine wooden cubes (each with three flat sides and three slightly curved sides) and a set of 54 “strategy cards” that instruct you as to which block to try to stack next.  If the tower falls on your turn, you have to draw three more cards.  Players win by being the first one to use all their cards (or successfully stacking the ninth block).

Wonky Details
  • Ages 8+
  • 2+ players
Our Wonky Experience

playing WonkyAgain, even though my boys were below the suggested age level, they both enjoyed Wonky and requested it multiple times.  They had a little trouble stacking the blocks, but since that’s the whole point of the game it didn’t really bother them.  I was probably the most frustrated player.  My goal wasn’t so much to win as to build the tower, so I could only take the game for so long as time after time the boys knocked it down and stacked blocks so it would fall for the next person (which is actually a good way to win).  Eventually I just got the game out on my own one time to try building the tower (which I never managed to do)!  No one else seemed to struggle with that aspect, however, so this perfectionistic mama decided to just let this be a game for the rest of the family.

About USAopoly

USAopoly has been creating popular board games since 1994, including both original games and special editions of classic board games.  If your family likes games as much as ours, be sure to visit the USAopoly website to check out more of what they have to offer.  And if you want to know what other Crew families thought of Tapple and Wonky, click the banner below to read more reviews!

 USAopoly Review
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