Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Wrapping Up Week 35 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
The end is so close we can taste it!  This week Ian finished up Level B of Spelling You See, so he gets to take a break until we start second grade in July.  Since he completed the first grade work in Mathletics already, I let him choose what he wanted to do for math each day, and he alternated between Mathletics and GPALOVEMATH.  He’ll work on 2nd grade lessons in both of those until I settle on what we’ll officially use next year.  The bulk of our week, however, was spent on the Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 3: Knights

This week our focus was on knights, a subject that has long interested Ian.  He enjoyed everything we did this week as part of the unit study.



We already have so many books about knights, I didn’t bother trying to hunt down most of the free reads suggested in Knights and Nobles at the library.

The favorite book for both boys was Imagine You’re a Knight by Phillip Steele.  It has several projects included, such as constructing a knight’s helmet, and knight and horse paper dolls.  Ian had already completed the projects when Grandma first brought the book home from England last year, but there are little pockets to keep them in, so both he and Elijah enjoyed getting them out again and playing with them.  The book also is packed with information and fascinating illustrations.

Other picture books we read this week were Young Lancelot by Robert D. San Souci and The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brien.  Our chapter book was The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla.  Ian and I took two weeks to read through it together, and we both really enjoyed the story.  I was unfamiliar with Bulla until I saw his books suggested on the Ambleside Online site as beginning chapter books.  While this book was easy enough for Ian to read, it was so well written that it didn’t feel awkward for me to read aloud (as I’ve noticed with other easy chapter books).  It was such a good story, Ian wanted to read more after we finished, so I encouraged him to start another book on his own.  (I put several ofBulla’s books on his Kindle.)


For a fun taste of the medieval period we watched Disney’s The Prince and the Pauper, and then later in the week we watched the rest of the episodes that are listed with it on Netflix (Pied Piper, Old King Cole, A Knight for a Day, and Ye Olden Days).  We also watched The Sword in the Stone now that we’d finished reading some Arthur stories.


At some point in the past I had bought a Knights Sticker Pack, so we pulled those out and the boys had fun creating sticker scenes (there were two sets in the pack).  Arianna had already used up one set of the similar Princess Sticker Pack, but thankfully we still had one more so she had some sticker fun as well.  It was a fun way to include the younger ones in our study.


Upcoming Reviews

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Wrapping Up Week 34 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
You know those weeks where it feels impossible to get anything done?  Yeah, that was our week.   Between a funeral, a dentist appointment, a field trip, and rehearsal for the year-end performance in our homeschool music program (on top of our usual ballet and swimming lessons), we didn’t make it through nearly as much as I had planned.  We were supposed to finish up with Spelling You See, but we’ll have to stretch it out one more week. Ian did finish the first grade lessons in Mathletics and moved on to second grade, and we read several books for our Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 2: Kings and Queens

We had actually done some of the Week 2 activities from Knights and Nobles last week, which helped us not be completely behind when the chaos of our week took over.  During the school hours we squeezed in at home this week we mostly focused on books and videos.

Books,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960I wasn’t sure we could make it through the suggested family read aloud for this week, but I did want to cover some of the stories about King Arthur, so I searched the library for some easier alternatives.  We read Young Arthur by Robert D. San Souci.  Through this beautifully illustrated picture book, Ian learned about Arthur’s childhood, Merlin, the sword in the stone, and Excalibur.  Some of the story was familiar from watching Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, but it helped reinforce that these stories exist outside of that context.  We talked about how stories about Arthur have been told for centuries.

We also started The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla.  This chapter book is easy enough for Ian to read on his own, though it’s more than he usually tackles.  I chose to trade off reading with him so he doesn’t develop a distaste for it.  (This is actually a read-aloud scheduled for next week, but I wanted to take a little more time with it so we could go through it together.)


Everyone enjoyed watching the Reading Rainbow episode “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which LeVar visits a Renaissance Faire and learns about medieval life.

We didn’t get to the suggested family movie (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) during the week, but I’m hoping for a chance at some point this weekend (though we’ll be watching an animated version of the story instead just because we already have it).


The highlight of our week was definitely the field trip to Medieval Times with our homeschool group.  We left the two younger children at a friend’s house and took the older boys for a fun lunchtime performance, complete with a tournament between competing knights.  We don’t join a lot of field trips these days, but since this one happened to fall in the middle of our unit study, we couldn’t pass it up!


Upcoming Reviews

We’ll still be we checking out new products even through our summer break, so watch for these reviews soon!

Wrapping Up Week 33 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
 What better way to spend the last four weeks of Ian’s first grade year than doing a unit study about the Middle Ages?  This week the only “regular” school work I required of him was Spelling You See (we took a few months off from this in the fall, but now he’s almost to the end of Level B), and his daily math work on the computer.  Ian went a little crazy in Mathletics this week, earning a whopping 3500 points as he pushed himself to finish up the four main categories in the 1st grade program (usually I require 1000 points each week).  He’ll easily finish in the first few days of next week and then we’ll move on to the second grade program since I like to have him do math year-round.

Aside from spelling and math, however, everything we did revolved around the suggestions from Knights and Nobles from Homeschool Legacy.  While I followed the main theme of the week, we found plenty of rabbit trails to follow as things captured Ian’s interest or as I wanted to expand a bit on things we read.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 1: Castles

Although this week was mostly about castles, there were also suggestions for learning about the cathedrals built in medieval times, which I expanded into a mini-study on aspects of religious life at the time.


Our main literature focus this week was the Newbery Medal winning book The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli.  It’s the story of Robin, a 14th century boy who over comes his personal fears and weakness, showing great courage and becomes a hero.  The first part of the book takes place at a monastery, and there were references to things like the scriptorium, chanting, and the various offices the monks observed throughout the day and night, which lead to several discussions.  Spinning off from these topics, we read Illuminations by Jonathan Hunt and Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson as well as leading into our study of cathedrals toward the end of the week.

“Knights and Nobles” has a great list of reading suggestions, so I set out a basket with all the options I found for free reading (both from our family collection and the local library), and let Ian go through them mostly on his own.  He’s already looked through Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle many times before, so I made sure I read it with him this time so he wouldn’t miss any of the detailed information. He enjoyed reading Castles by Stephanie Turnbull on his own as well as looking at some the pictures in some of the more advanced books.



After reading Castle by David Macaulay, we watched the video based on the book, which I found at our library.  I thought they were going to cover mostly the same material, but they were actually more complementary than similar. I wouldn’t have wanted to choose one over the other.

After unsuccessfully searching for the DVD of Cathedral at several of our local libraries, it finally occurred to me to check YouTube, and sure enough, there it was, along with several other PBS specials based on David Macaulay’s books.  (I wish I’d known about Pyramid and Roman City earlier this year!)

Actually, turned out well that the library didn’t have Cathedral, because it prompted me to check out another option, Building the Great Cathedrals, which turned out to be fascinating and informative.  Elijah is especially interested in building design, and he gladly joined Ian and I for this part of our schoolwork.  We enjoyed this DVD so much I considered purchasing it for our family library, but then I realized it’s available for free streaming through Amazon Prime.

Watching the movies about cathedrals (and reading David Macaulay’s book Cathedral) led to many discussions about different aspects about the buildings: flying buttresses, different kinds of arches, gargoyles, stained glass, and church bells, so we ended the week with a family movie night watching Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which gave Ian a fun opportunity to point out to Daddy all the things he’d learned.


Several times throughout the week I put on various CD’s with music from the medieval time period.  I wish I’d thought to get some some instrumental CDs from the library, but I have few recordings of Gregorian chant and medieval motets and carols that gave us a sense of the time period as well.

Ian really wanted to build a catapult after all our reading.  There are instructions included for later in this unit, but they required several things we don’t have around the house and I really didn’t want to have to buy anything, so I found a simple alternative using popsicle sticks and rubber bands at Little Bins for Little Hands.  At first he wanted to attempt the more complex version on that page, but it started turning into Mom’s catapult, so I told him he needed to go back to the simple one.  Even then, we had to make some adjustments because we only had notched craft sticks, which kept breaking.  Eventually we tried Tegu planks, which worked well.  All Ian’s hard work was rewarded with some marshmallow boulders to launch.

Ian spent most of his free inside hours this week playing with the Playmobil castle he got for his birthday three years ago.  While he’s always enjoyed it, he seemed to take his play to a new level this week after everything we learned about.  I’m glad he still has so much fun with it, and I was thankful for the many quiet hours of play it provided this week!


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We’ll still be we checking out new products through our even summer break, so watch for these reviews soon!


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.

Screenshot (12)

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!

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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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