Tag Archives: audio resources

The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury (Crew Review)

Can you believe it’s almost time to start thinking about Christmas?  Our family has been getting in the mood lately as we listened to the Christmas stories that make up The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury – Audio Collection.  We received the Digital Downloads of these eight original stories written by Todd Wilson (a.k.a. The Familyman) and read by Jim Hodges.

About The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury

the-familymans-christmas-treasuryI’m pretty particular about what we focus on during the Christmas season, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we first started listening to these stories.  I was pleased to find that not only were they all Christ-centered, they were thought-provoking as well.  Here are some brief summaries of the eight stories we received.

Cootie McKay’s Nativity

When a small town’s cherished nativity scene is ruined, they commission a local man to create a new one for next year.  The only trouble is, Cootie McKay is not only a little odd, he doesn’t even know the Christmas story.  Over the course of the year, Cootie learns about Jesus, and his creation helps the whole town see the familiar figures in a new way.

Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster

When Jason gets irritated with his sister’s fascination with their “boring” manger scene, he pretends to blast it to bits, never expecting his wish to come true.  “Captain Chaos” erases the birth of Jesus from history, and Jason sees how different life would be if he had not been born, gaining a new appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Stranger

As a stranger comes knocking at the homes of members of a small church, fear and distrust threaten to taint their Christmas experience.  On a snowy Christmas Eve, Sam’s family receives the dreaded knock, but his father only hesitates a moment before inviting the stranger in.  The family is soon able to look past Jesse’s outward appearance and their Christmas is truly blessed as they open their home and hearts to him.

The Bishop’s Dream

Not just another re-telling of the story of Saint Nicholas, “The Bishop’s Dream” looks at the true historical man and places him a modern setting, imagining what he would think of the shift toward a holiday focused on Santa and presents rather than Christ.

Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest

Isaac is embarrassed by the plaid Christmas vest his father insists on wearing to church every year as soon as Thanksgiving has past until he learns about the story of Harold Grubbs and how God changed him.

Gladys Remembers Christmas

Gladys hasn’t had a joyful Christmas since she was six years old, just before her mother died.  Years later, while packing up her father’s house, she finds their old manger scene, and discovers love for the the first time since childhood.

The Secret of Snow Village*

Catherine loves to look at her grandmother’s ceramic village.  Somehow Christmas seems better for the small figures, though she can’t figure out what she’s missing until she visits the village herself and finds out what Christmas is really about.

It’s Called Christmas*

300 years in the future, Nook is puzzled when his “Happy Holiday” greeting is returned with the puzzling reply, “It’s called Christmas?”  All traces of this word seem to have been erased, and it is no easy task for Nook to find out what Christmas is, but when he does, he sends a warning back to the past in hopes that Christmas can be saved for future generations.

*These final two of the stories are not included in the collection in the CD collection, though all eight are available in book format.


Our Experience

Todd Wilson says, “As the father of eight children, I wanted Christmas stories that took longer than 5 minutes to read, didn’t confuse the truth with a tale, and above all, pointed my children to the Savior. I couldn’t find any, so I wrote my own. My hope is that Cootie McKay”s Nativity will give you gobs of snuggling time, Christmas enchantment, and will point your children to the manger year after year. ”

He has certainly succeeded, and the stories will definitely become part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Ian really liked “Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster.”  I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I think either “Cootie McKay’s Nativity” or “The Secret of the Snow Village” would be at the top of my list.  I loved the creativity and variety in all these Christmas stories, and Jim Hodges is a wonderful storyteller whose warm voice draws you in as you listen.  We enjoyed all of these stories so much, I’m looking forward to getting the two Easter stories for our family as well.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

Beric the Briton (Crew Review)

Beric the Briton Review
We have loved everything we’ve listened to from Heirloom Audio Productions, so we were excited to get a chance to review their newest offering, Beric The Briton.  Like the previous adventures, this exciting audio drama is based on a historical novel by G.A. Henty and takes you back in time so you can “Live the Adventure,” this time in the days when the Romans were ruling in Britain.

About Heirloom Audio Productions

HeirloomAudio-Logo_zpsnjxedqzzHeirloom Audio Productions is introducing a new generation to the classic stories of G.A. Henty, a 19th century author whose historical novels are full of adventure, strong character values, and faith.  These are not audio books, but full dramatizations.  Each production features a talented cast, beautifully orchestrated soundtracks, and exciting drama that is entertaining for both children and adults.  Our family has enjoyed all of the “audio adventures” created by Heirloom Audio Productions so far:

Heirloom Audio Productions

About Beric the Briton

Beric the Briton not only meets the high standard that has been set by its predecessors, I think it’s actually my new favorite.  Beric is a wise, strong, principled young chief in Britain during Roman times.  He does not just dismiss the Romans as the enemy but learns from them and even befriends some of them.  When an oppressive Roman leader comes against the Britons, Beric trains a group of his men to fight more like the Romans, understanding the value of discipline and order rather than just relying on bravery.

Unfortunately, other British leaders tend to dismiss Beric’s wise advice, and eventually he and his men are captured and taken to Rome.  On the way, he saves the life of his enemy, which leads to him being told about “Christus.”  When he gets to Rome, where he and his men are trained as gladiators, he learns more about the one true God finds gains his freedom both spiritually and physically.

From the battles in Britain and the bold leadership of Queen Boadicea to the excitement of the Roman colosseum and Beric’s encounters with Emperor Nero, Beric the Briton is a dramatic story that kept our whole family (well, everyone 6 and up) entertained on long car rides (the entire thing is about two and half hours long).

In addition to the 2-CD set, members of the Crew received several downloadable bonus (included with the purchase with a “Family Four-Pack” Package:

  • Beric the Briton audio adventure (MP3)
  • eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter (pdf)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • A beautiful printable pdf poster with inspirational quote
  • cast poster (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • “Behind the Scenes of Beric the Briton (mp4 video download)

We just listened to Beric The Briton for entertainment, but the eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a great resource for homeschool families who want to incorporate the audio drama into their studies.  It includes a basic biography of G.A. Henty, as well as historical background information about the Roman Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea.  Then it provides a listening guide that breaks the recording into small chunks and gives questions to help younger listeners understand what’s happening in the story or provide older children with prompts for written assignments.  Each section contains the following types of questions:

  • 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, as well as mapping activities, book suggestions, links to Google Earth tours, even a few recipes)
  • Defining Words (vocabulary used in the story)

Finally, there are suggestions for further reading about the Britons and Romans in the 1st Century, additional historical information, and three short Bible studies to help students explore biblical themes from the narrative (“The Importance of Studying History,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and “One Way”).

My favorite bonus, however, was the “Behind the Scenes” video, featuring interviews with the actors and producer, as well as footage of the cast at work in the recording studio.  The characters in this story are so rich, and hearing the actors speak about them helps give them even more depth than just listening to the audio drama.  This is a powerful story, and watching the video made me want to go back and listen all over again.

Beric the Briton video

Beric The Briton is definitely a hit around here.  Heirloom Audio Productions is going to have a hard time topping this one (but we can’t wait to see them try)!

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions Review
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The Dragon and The Raven Audio Adventure (Crew Review)

Dragon and the Raven Review
What do you know about Alfred the Great?  This early king of England not only helped defeat the raiding Vikings, but was also was a man of deep faith who helped bring his enemies to Christ.  Now Heirloom Audio Productions has brought his inspiring story back to life in their newest adventure, The Dragon and the Raven, based on the historical novel by G.A. Henty.  We were blessed by their generosity in allowing us to review not only the audio drama, but also several bonuses materials that helped us get even more about of the story.

About Heirloom Audio Productions

HeirloomAudio-Logo_zpsnjxedqzzHeirloom Audio Productions is passionate about bringing history to life.  Through their dramatic audio adventures they are introducing a new generation to “The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty,” a 19th century author whose historical, character-building novels enjoyed great popularity more than a hundred years ago.  Each story features virtuous characters who must learn how to walk out their faith in the midst of the trials they face.

Heirloom Audio Productions strives for excellence in every aspect of what they do.  From their talented actors to the beautiful soundtracks, these two-hour plus dramas are quality productions that both children and adults can appreciate.  Our family has eagerly added all their audio adventures to our library:

and now, The Dragon and the Raven!

Heirloom Audio Collage

About The Dragon and the Raven

Like the others in this series, the adventure begins with two boys, Ned and Gerald, meeting up with “Mr. George,” (G.A. Henty), who sets the stage for the story he’s about to tell.  This time the boys will take on the more common 9th century names of “Edmund” and “Harold” as the live out the adventure.

After the death of his father, young Edmund becomes a close ally of King Alfred and joins him in battling the invading Danes.  Through the course of the story we see many examples of courage, honor, and what it looks like to love one’s enemies.  There’s even a bit of romance as Edmund falls in love with (and must later come to the rescue of) Freya, the daughter of one of the Danes.  As in all of Henty’s stories, virtue is held in high esteem, and the characters model qualities we hope our children will emulate.

Our Experience

As members of the Review Crew we received the 2-CD set as well as several downloadable bonuses that come with the purchase of a “Family Four-Pack” Package:

  • The Dragon and the Raven audio adventure (MP3)
  • eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter (pdf)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • A beautiful printable pdf poster of Proverbs 21: 31 (King Alfred’s Hope)
  • cast poster (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • “Behind the Scenes of The Dragon and the Raven (mp4 video download)

DSCN1205xThe eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter is a great tool for homeschool families.  In addition to providing some background information about G.A. Henty and Alfred the Great, it breaks the recording into 4-10 minute chunks, then provides questions to help make sure young children understood what they heard. (These could also be used as written assignments for older children.)

  • 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 are suggestions for further reading about Alfred the Great, three short Bible studies to help students explore biblical themes from the narrative (“God’s Law and the Nations,” “Love Your Enemy,” and “Literacy”), and a brief history of Britain and England.

We especially enjoyed the “Behind the Scenes” video, which showed the actors in the recording studio and gave a fascinating look at the process of creating the whole production.  It delved deeper into the history behind the story and helped us get more out of it the next time we listened to the audio adventure.

DTR Actor Collage
The Dragon and the Raven was a wonderful supplement for our history studies on the Middle Ages.  It is also my favorite drama so far from Heirloom Audio Productions.  I have a special affinity for British history, and it opened up a window into a period I knew very little about.  Whether as a homeschool supplement or just for entertainment, we highly recommend The Dragon and the Raven.

The Dragon and the Raven {Heirloom Audio Productions Review}
Crew Disclaimer

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
Crew Disclaimer

With Lee in Virginia (Crew Review)

With Lee in Virginia Review
 We were thrilled to have the chance to review the latest release in Heirloom Audio Productions‘ series “The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty.”  With Lee in Virginia takes listeners on an audio adventure back to the time of the Civil War, and as with the previous recordings in the series, history comes alive as we are drawn into a story of faith and courage.  We received a 2-CD set of the audio theater production, as well as several downloadable resources to help us get the most out of our experience.

About With Lee in Virginia

The story is about a wealthy young Virginian man named Vincent.  While he accepts slavery as a part of his world, he fights in his own way against any mistreatment of slaves that he encounters, both on his own plantation and those of his neighbors.  When the Civil War breaks out, he joins the Confederate Army and experiences battle, the death of lifelong friends, being taken prisoner, escaping, and finding his way home.  Several times throughout the story, he interacts with General Robert E. Lee, who had known his late father.

Vincent’s faith, and that of General Lee, is emphasized throughout the story.  I think it is easy for modern observers to condemn the South altogether, and With Lee in Virginia helps us understand the Confederate mindset a little better.  Lee in particular is a very sympathetic character, with deep roots and attachments both to his home state of Virginia and with the nation as a whole.  He had been a valued military leader and at the beginning of the conflict he turns down the commission offered to him in the Union Army.  “You are asking me to take up arms against my beloved Virginia.  Against my neighbors and friends.  Against my family.”

As he prays about this life-changing decision, he pleads with God for guidance.  “Do I fight for my country, as I have done for all these years, or do I defend my state, my cherished Virginia?  Do I spill the blood of my countryman or spill the blood of my neighbor?  Almighty God, I cannot make this choice without you.  Please, please, what do I do?”

Faith, courage, goodness, and humility are emphasized throughout the story, and even as the main characters face defeat in the war, they are still admirable men of honor.

In addition to the two and a half hour CD recording, we were given download access to several special bonuses, including:

  • audio theater production (mp3)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • study guide and discussion starter (pdf)

The study guide is intended to help parents guide younger students through the story, as well as providing a series of written assignments for older children.  It breaks the recording into 4-10 minute chunks, then provides questions to help make sure children understood what they heard.  Each set of questions is broken up into three parts: Listening Well (comprehension), Thinking Further (critical thinking), and Defining Words (vocabulary).  Other features of the study include a list of recommended reading for those who want to learn more about Robert E. Lee and his faith, two short Bible studies to help families explore some of the biblical themes from the story, and historical information about how Sectionalism impacted the Civil War and slavery in the Bible.

Our Family’s Experience of With Lee in Virginia

Ian With LeeWe listened to the story a few times, both in the car as we drove around town, and at home as we did work around the house.  My 7-year old listens to audio stories constantly, so he was immediately drawn in and listened intently to the whole thing.  My younger children enjoyed the story while we were in the car but weren’t inclined to stick around for long once we were at home.   Like the previous releases from Heirloom Audio, the production quality is impressive.  In the background you hear the beautiful score by Emmy-winning composer John Campbell, and many talented actors (including Kirk Cameron and Sean Astin) help bring the story to life.

We’ve enjoyed all the productions from Heirloom Audio, but I think this one has been our family’s favorite.  While the children certainly enjoyed Under Drake’s Flag and In Freedom’s Cause, it seemed like this story was the most accessible to them at their young ages.  They definitely had some questions about slavery and the war, but overall I think they were able to follow the story of With Lee in Virginia better than they have the others.  Obviously older children will get more out of it, and I know we’ll use it (and the study guide) in the future when we study this period in history.

I am so thankful to have these quality audio recordings to share with our family.  Their emphasis on faith and character, as well as the strong male characters, are so important to us particularly as we raise our sons.  To find out more about Heirloom Audio’s vision and their productions, I recommend checking out LiveTheAdventureLetter.com.  We look forward to more wonderful audio theater productions from Heirloom Audio!

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Crew Disclaimer

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InFreedomsCause

Twitter: https://twitter.com/InFreedomsCause

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112701427096792421838/112701427096792421838/posts

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jointhecause

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:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WithLeeInVirginia Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeeAudioDrama

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/114534826166314080647/114534826166314080647

In Freedom's Cause Review
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Wizzy Gizmo (Crew Review)

Wizzy Gizmo CollageWe are always on the lookout for new audio entertainment, so we jumped at the chance to review Wizzy Gizmo‘s Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, which takes the listener on a creative, sensory journey through the first chapter of the Bible.

What is Wizzy Gizmo?

Wizzy Gizmo offers several products that are designed to help engage children in learning about the Bible.  In addition to Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, they have two books based on Old Testament stories (the first tells the same story as the audio drama from Genesis 1, and the second moves on to Genesis 2), and a set of cards that teach about the books of the New Testament.  (Other members of the Crew received these products to review, so you can visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to see what they had to say about them!)

Wizzy Gizmo Review

The audio drama is much more than a retelling of Genesis 1.  The story features “Gizmovision,” an invention that “takes any book you have and creates a life-like world inside a bubble.  You not only see the story, but you can touch, taste, feel, and smell the story.”  Wizzy Gizmo, the inventor, and a group of children (along with a couple of silly sidekicks) embark on a journey into the biblical account of Creation.  Day by day, they hear the words of the biblical text (read from the New American Standard Bible) and then use all their senses to observe what it would have been like to be there.

There are several catchy songs interwoven through the story, some just silly and fun, but others very worshipful.

Our Family’s Experience

Before we listened to Who Created Everything?, I had some hesitations about Wizzy Gizmo.  I was afraid it was trying to add modern elements to the biblical story of Creation in order to make it more entertaining to kids.  Once we listened to it, however, I was reassured that this was not the case.  Instead, “Wizmovision” is used to help the bring the story to life, allowing the kids to think about how all their senses would experience the wonder of Creation.  More than once I caught myself thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s what it would have been like!”  It made the Creation story real to me in ways I had never considered.

I was impressed by the quality of the album.  Although at times the acting seemed a bit forced, the overall production was excellent.  (Audio samples are available on the website.)  The music was beautifully orchestrated, and I especially enjoyed the last few tracks on the CD that were just the soundtrack with no voices.

P1030666As for my kids, all I can say is that they have never all been so into any audio entertainment right from the start!  I first put it on in the car as we returned home from a morning out, hoping it would capture their attention enough that no one would fall asleep before we could get home for naps.  It sure worked!  They were immediately drawn in and spent the entire ride listening and laughing, especially when it got to the “Mango” song.  The boys begged to take the CD into their room when we got home, and I think they listened to it four more times that first day.  Arianna, who’s only 2, enjoyed it every bit as much as Ian, who is 6 and usually likes to listen to things beyond the attention span of the younger kids.  (The recommended age is 4-12, but I think some kids on the older end of that span might find it rather juvenile.)

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into the production of the Wizzy Gizmo resources.  The “Who, What, Why and How?” page on the website shares a lot of the careful decisions made by the creators to ensure that the products are thoroughly biblical and wholesome.

[Note: The website itself seems to be still under construction.  In addition to several typos that made me cringe, we were unable to find any of the “games, puzzles, and other fun activities” the CD insert said were there.]

Just the Facts

Final Thoughts

We want more Wizzy Gizmo!  Since the CD is labeled “Episode One,” Ian’s been begging me to get “the rest of them,” but there aren’t any addition albums yet.  Our whole family enjoyed this one so much that we’ll be quick to purchase any new audio dramas that Wizzy Gizmo produces in the future.

Connect With Wizzy Gizmo on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wizzygizmo
Twitter: https://twitter.com/wizzygizmo
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/wizzygizmo/
Google+: http://www.plus.google.com/+wizzygizmo
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/wizzygizmo

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Accountable Kids (Review)

collageOne of the treasures I brought home from the Great Homeschool Convention last month was a bag full of goodies from Accountable Kids.  I was so impressed with this program from the moment I first stopped by their booth that I purchased boards for all four of my children, knowing that it’s something we will be using for years to come and even Nicholas would need his own place to keep track of his responsibilities.  Almost everyone who has come into our home since we started the program has commented on them, and so I thought I’d take some time to share with you about how Accountable Kids has helped our family.


What is It?

Accountable Kids is a system that helps children take responsibility for the things they need to do each day.  Although it has some components of a “chore chart,” it’s actually more of a time management system, because it includes things like eating meals and taking their vitamins as well as jobs like picking up toys or doing the dishes.

The main components of the program are the Progress Board and the various cards that are used with it.  Without going into a detailed explanation of all the cards, let me just give a quick overview.

The “responsibility cards” tell the child what they need to do.  You can trim the length to group them into different times of the day (morning, day, and evening).


At the beginning of the day, all the cards are hanging on the first peg of their board.  When the child completes the action on the card, they flip it over onto the second peg.  When all the cards for that group are finished, the child gets a “ticket,” which they hang on the third peg.  If they complete all the responsibility cards that day, they will have earned 3 tickets, and they get a star on their “date” card (fourth peg).  On the fifth ticket, we hang cards with extra jobs that they can complete on top of their regular responsibilities.  When they complete one of these, they get a “bonus buck” card (which they hang behind their tickets on the third peg).


We keep all the rewards cards on our “Mini Board,” which is mounted out of the children’s reach above their boards.  (There are two other kinds of cards, the “Best Behavior Card” and the “Privilege Pass,” which are also hung here.)


So I just mentioned three kinds of rewards: tickets, stars on a “date card”, and “bonus bucks.”  The nice thing about these rewards is that each family can decided what those are worth.  I tell you about what we did in a minute.  It might sound a little complicated a first, but it’s actually pretty simple once you have it all in front of you.

Putting It to Use in Our Family

We watched the DVD with our kids, and they were eager to get started.  We let anticipation build up a bit as we went through a few steps to get things ready.

Personalizing Our Boards

The first thing we did was set to work decorating their boards.  I took the kids shopping and they each got to pick out some stickers.  I also bought some wooden letters to put on their names, which I painted and glued on the boards when I glued the pegs in.  Eric and I decided to cover them all with a coat of polyurethane (actually it took several coats) to give them a shiny finish before letting everyone decorate their own boards with the stickers they had chosen.

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Prepping the Cards

P1030370Next we got out all the cards and have the kids stamp the back of them so we knew whose was whose.  (The mom at the Accountable Kids booth at the convention suggested this, and it was a great idea!  Not only do I know who dropped a card if I find it on the ground, it also ensures that they can’t spend anyone’s tickets but their own.)

Once the cards were all stamped, I went through and pulled out cards for the things the kids were already doing.  (I wanted to make sure we got the system running smoothly before we added in any new responsibilities).  I trimmed them according to what time of day I wanted to group them in, Eric and Ian hung everyone’s boards on the wall, and then we were ready to start.

Putting Accountable Kids to Work

P1030384Our first day was beautiful.  The kids were excited about it all.  They loved knowing what was expected of them, and they especially loved the rewards.  In our house, 1 ticket = 15 minutes of screen time (either a video or computer games).  Everyone worked hard, got things done, and earned all their tickets.  Lovely.

The second day was enlightening.  Personalities started to show.  Elijah was excited to start saving up his tickets, whereas Ian was thrilled that he could buy screen time and started spending his tickets immediately.

However, then reality set in.  He dragged his feet about completing his morning cards and missed out on that ticket.  He spent 2 hours staring at a math page he easily could have completed in 20 minutes.  It made me realize how dependent I have made him on me to push him and prod him into getting things accomplished.

After about 90 minutes, he was standing on his chair stomping his feet saying, “I want to be done NOW!” over and over and over again.  I loved knowing that there were clearly established consequences for the choices he was making.  I didn’t have to get upset.  I didn’t have to hover over him.  I just calmly reminded him that he could be done as soon as he made the decision to do what he was supposed to do.  Then I went about my business.  (I got so much accomplished that morning!)

Eventually I took him a drink, gave him a hug, and pointed out that he already knew the answer to the next problem.  He quieted down and got right to work.  We haven’t really had any problems since then.  The kids don’t earn all their tickets every day, but it’s usually because things just got too busy, not because they were being defiant.

In the month that we’ve been using Accountable Kids, we have come a LONG way.  I’ve added in a couple daily responsibilities for the boys, and they almost always work through their cards with a good attitude.  When we are out doing other things and they miss a few cards, no one has complained about not earning a ticket, because there’s not much time for screen time on those days anyway.

I’ve awarded a few “Best Behavior” cards, which they can use like a normal ticket.  The key to these cards is that they cannot be earned.  I might give one to a child who comes immediately when I call them all over, rewarding his obedience and showing the others that they missed out by not obeying right away.  Or if I see one of them going out of their way to help another sibling without being asked, I praise them and reward them with a Best Behavior card.  They never know when I decided to use them, but it’s made it that much more special when they get one.

We haven’t implemented the entire program yet.  Our boys have done a couple extra chores to earn bonus bucks, but we haven’t really emphasized that yet, so they’ve kind of forgotten about them (as have we).  I think once we cash the boys’ bonus bucks in for real money they’re going to be more motivated to get that part of the program up and running.

We also haven’t had any date nights with mom or dad yet, which is the reward for getting 10 stars on their date card.  (They get a star when they’ve completed every responsibility card that day.)  We also haven’t used the Privilege Passes at all yet.

What We Liked

I wish I could show you the difference Accountable Kids has made in the overall atmosphere of our home.  Eric and I were marveling the other night over what good attitudes everyone has and how responsible the older boys especially have become.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on all the changes, but let me list of few:

  • No nagging about specific chores. (We just ask them how they’re doing on their cards.)
  • The kids really appreciate being “in control” of their own day.  Even though we decide what their cards are, they get to choose whether they do them and get the rewards or grumble and complain and then miss out.
  • I rarely have to tell the kids “no” when they ask to watch a show.  If they don’t have tickets, they don’t ask.  If they do, I’m usually more than willing to let them watch because I’m grateful their jobs are done.
  • Smiles! My children have become much happier, I think because of being able to take charge of their own lives.  I am amazed at the difference in one in particular, whose eyes just light up at being able to see what is expected and being able to do it without a grown-up being in control.
  • Overall, our house is so much tidier than it ever has been, just because I don’t have to nag the kids to pick up their things.  And now that they have cards for things like sweeping and emptying the dishwasher, I feel like I’m not alone in trying to keep the household running.  It’s been SO nice!

What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

I wish there had been a visual “quick start” guide for when we first put everything in motion, just because there are a lot of parts to the program and it was hard to keep them all straight at first.  We watched the DVD (which was really helpful), but I am such a visual person and I wish there had been a chart I could look at to remember the different parts of the program.  I started reading the book, but I haven’t gotten very far.

Aside from that however, there’s not really anything I would add or change.  I am really pleased with how Accountable Kids is working for our family, and I know we’ll be using it for a long time.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I would definitely give this program a 5!

Just the Facts

Accountable Kids is geared toward kids ages 3-14.  (Arianna is 2 1/2 and we help her with her cards as much as she’ll let us, but it’s not something I would use with her yet if she didn’t have older siblings.)

If you’re interested in using Accountable Kids with your family, visit their website to find everything you’ll need to get started. (For our 4 kids, we bought the Basic Start-Up Kit plus 3 extra Child Kits and a mini board.)  Here’s what they sell:

  • Basic Start-Up Kit Package (shown here), which includes a book, one child kit, and a link to the Quick-Start video online – $45
  • Deluxe Start-Up Kit Package, which includes everything in the basic package, plus a Family Forum board (not discussed in this review) and a mini board – $65
  • Extra Child Kits, which include a natural wood Progress Board, 60 Reminder Cards, 3 blank Reminder Cards, 10 Tickets, 10 Bonus Bucks, 4 Best Behavior Cards, 2 Privilege Passes, 3 Special Date Cards, and 2 sticker sheets – $24.98 when purchased with either of the above packages

I can’t speak highly enough about this program.  We had been trying to figure out a system for getting chores done and paying the kids for extra work, but we just hadn’t been able to come up with anything as simple and effective as Accountable Kids.  It is exactly what we were looking for, and I’m so thankful we stumbled across it!

LearningPalette.com (Crew Review)

Learning Wrap-Ups Review

We try to make everything a learning opportunity in our house, so I’m always keeping an eye out for educational games for my kids to play, both physically and on the computer.  Last fall a friend introduced us to the Learning Palette from Learning Wrap-Ups, and Ian was so fascinated with the game, I ended up getting one for our house.  The game consists of a base with colored disks and sets of cards that can be changed out to practice various math or reading skills.  The player uses the disks to mark the answers to 12 questions on each card.

Because each set of cards is purchased separately, we’ve only had a chance to use the ones for 1st grade math, but recently I was given a chance to review LearningPalette.com, which is basically a virtual version of the same game.  With the Full Online Family Subscription for all levels of Reading/Math Palettes instruction (up to 5 uses for a full year), we had a chance to see how much more there is to the Learning Palette.  The online version of the game allows one to access every math and reading card available, which provided an opportunity to not only explore some of the other cards available to use with the palette, but also to compare the online experience to playing with the physical game.

What’s Included

So much is included with the online program!  There is a section for math as well as one for reading, each broken down into levels to correlate with grades in school  (e.g. “Basic” is appropriate for Kindergarten, Level 1 with 1st grade, etc.).

 Math (Basic, Levels 1-5)

When the student first logs in, they select math or reading, followed by the appropriate level.  Then they’ll need to choose which category they’re going to work in.  For example, in Level 1 there are six categories (each with 12 cards):

  • Numeration Step 1 – Numbers 0-10 Intro to Addition and Subtraction
  • Numeration Step 2 – Numbers 0-100
  • Numeration Step 3 – Money and Simple Fractions
  • Algebra Concepts
  • Geometry and Measurement
  • Probability and Statistics


The Basic level has 5 categories (60 cards), but each of the other levels has 6 categories (72 cards).  That’s a lot of math!

Reading (Basic, Levels 1-3)

There are a wide range of reading skills covered over the four levels.  “Basic” has foundational concepts like the alphabet, beginning consonants, and rhyming words.  Level 3 covers things like prefixes and suffixes, reading comprehension, and grammar.

Each of the levels has 5 categories.  We spent most of our time in Level 1, so here’s what we had to choose from:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives
  • Vocabulary
  • Phonics
  • Blends and Digraphs


How We Used It

Since Ian (6) was already familiar with the physical Learning Palette, he made an easy transition to the online game.  When this review started, I was planning to use the website mainly with him as a supplement to our regular math program, but the novelty wore off after the first couple weeks, and I didn’t want to push him and have him end up not enjoying it at all.  If it were a choice between using LearningPalette.com and a traditional worksheet (which would probably test similar skills), he’d choose the former without hesitation.  Still, it was more of a lesson than some of the computer games he does, and therefore not necessarily something he’d choose if I gave him game time.  I’ll continue to use it with him sporadically through the summer as a fun math activity to keep things fresh in his mind once we finish up our regular math curriculum.

Elijah (4) was interested in what Ian was doing so I decided to let him play as well.  He hadn’t played the physical game before, so it took him a little longer to figure out how to play.  He started requesting it more frequently, however, so I ended up letting him be our main user.   He’s much more drawn to anything mathematical, and the whole system was interesting to him because it was so neat and orderly.  I really like having learning activities he can do on his own while I’m working with Ian, and this is perfect for that.  He enjoys it so much that when he’s used up all his computer time for the day he often asks if he can get out the physical Learning Palette.

Both boys spent a lot more time on math than reading, mostly because that’s usually where I directed them (though occasionally they chose a reading card on their own). They are both good readers and I prefer to just let them pick up on reading skills as they spend time with good books so we avoid worksheet-type activities unless there’s a specific concept I think they need to spend extra time practicing.

What We Liked

It was wonderful having access to every card available for the Learning Palette!  I also found it simpler for the children to use than the physical game.  When they get out our Learning Palette I have to watch them carefully to make sure the cards stay together in their sets and in the correct order.  The online game made it easy to find the card we were looking for and to click to the next one as soon as they completed it.

I liked the way the menu showed them what they had already completed and whether it was done correctly. The yellow circle shown below was one where Ian had mixed up two of the answers, and I appreciated that that he was still able to go on to the next card without having to redo it.  If it were something I felt he really didn’t know I would have had him do the card again, but in this case it would have been a waste of time so I was glad he could just move on.


I also really liked how easy it was to view progress reports for each student.  The reports not only showed which cards had been completed and how many questions had been answered correctly, but also how long it took the student to complete each one and averages for both the scores and times.  For example here’s a report from a session where one of them had worked on several cards.


What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

Although the session progress reports were helpful, the main report page didn’t make much sense to me.  On the session report above, for example, I can see the scores for the 6 cards he completed just on that one day.  Yet the main page only shows 5 cards completed total.  It wasn’t that big a deal to me, so I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, but it is a bit confusing.

Our first time trying to log in it took a long time to load the card we’d selected.  After several tries without ever getting to see the card I told Ian to just choose another one, and when he did it loaded fine and he never looked back.

Another problem we encountered in the beginning was that at first glance there wasn’t an obvious way to get back to the menu to choose another card.  This is what the screen looked like:


It turned out I wasn’t seeing the entire screen, though there wasn’t a way to scroll down, so I didn’t realize that until Elijah accidentally adjusted the size of the picture. (Somehow he manages to do this frequently, which was very frustrating until I learned how to fix it with CTRL +!)  The size of the disks and the palette didn’t change, but if you notice on the right-hand side there is now a set of very helpful buttons!


Perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue if we had a larger monitor, but the kids do their work on various laptops, and it would have been nice to be able to see the whole screen, especially the “menu” and “next card” buttons without having adjust our settings.

Despite these minor issues, we have enjoyed using Learning Palette.com and will continue to use it as a supplement to our other math and reading work.

Just the Facts

LearningPalette.com is suitable for children working at a Kindergarten through 5th grade level for math, and a Kindergarten through 3rd grade level for reading.  It is available as a 1-year subscription.  The price varies according to how many users accounts you want to purchase ($25 for just one user, $60 for 2-5 users, and even deeper discounts for schools with more students to sign up.) They are also offering a special homeschooling family discount of 20%.  Just enter the coupon code “HOMESCHOOL” at checkout.  (This discount is also good on the main Learning Wrap-Ups site, so be sure to check out their online store!)

Connect With  Learning Wrap-Ups on Social Media:

  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LearningWrapUpsInc
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/2010Facts

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Our Newest Audio Favorite: The Brinkman Adventures (Crew Review)

Brinkman Adventures Review
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ve probably read about how much we enjoy various forms of audio entertainment.  My boys seem unable to get dressed without some form of “stories” playing on their iPod dock.  I had never heard of The Brinkman Adventures until an opportunity arose to review their latest season of audio dramas, but I jumped at the chance to review The Brinkman Adventures Season 2: Episodes 13-24.  They have quickly become a favorite around our house.
These 12 episodes follow the adventures of a family with eight children as they work to support missionary efforts around the world.  Even if you haven’t listened to the first season, you can easily jump in and enjoy this set. (Our whole family was so engaged, however, we decided to buy the first season just so we could get more time with the Brinkmans!)

Brinkman Adventures ReviewWhat’s it all about?

Without going into every episode, here are a few of the highlights from this season:

The first seven episodes are centered around a trip to Belize, where the Brinkman family is planning to visit a missionary couple involved in multiple ministries, including a school.  In the first episode two of the kids find an old class ring and try to sell it to raise money to buy curriculum for the school, while also trying to track down the original owner.  When they find him, he turns out to be a retired missionary.  As the family drives to Belize they end up meeting with him and his wife, who encourage them with stories of their work trying to help the underground church in China and planting churches in Hong Kong.  Eventually the family makes it to Belize and gets to see the work being done by the missionaries there.  They even learn a little about the pirate history of Belize (which fascinated Ian)!

The last three episodes focus on the story of a family working in the Middle East.  In one we meet a young man from a Muslim family who has a dream that starts him on a journey toward Christ, even though choosing to follow Jesus will come at great cost.  His decision also triggers events that force the missionary family to flee the country to avoid imprisonment.  The Brinkmans later meet this family at a retreat and get to know the son, who is struggling to come to grips with some of the hard things that have happened to his family recently, but eventually learns to bring his troubles to the Lord.

The stories are fascinating, and provided good opportunities for our family to talk about how blessed we are to have the freedom to worship openly, how God provides for people doing the work of His kingdom, and how people’s faith can grow stronger during persecution.

True Family Entertainment

Because the stories feature characters from toddler to teenager, they really are for people of all ages to enjoy.  My oldest is six, and he was the biggest fan in our house, though these will certainly appeal to older children and teens as well.  Our younger kids listened in the car, but I’m not sure how much they were following along.  Occasionally certain lines would catch their attention, and then they would burst out laughing and repeat those lines to keep the giggles going.  Arianna (2) thought it was hilarious to shout, “I need a Bible!” over and over.

My husband and I especially appreciated having something we could all listen to together that was family friendly, faith-building, and entertaining.  The “Brinkmans” are based on a real family, and all the children play themselves (with names changed).  We loved listening to them interact with each other, help one another, and learn valuable life lessons as they faced different circumstances.  The stories were also a wonderful tool for teaching our children about missionary life, both the positive side as they heard about how God miraculously provided for the missionaries in the stories, as well as some of the harder aspects of serving in different places around the world.

The first time I put on The Brinkman Adventures, Ian wasn’t that into them, but I think it was because he already has things he enjoys listening to and he wasn’t really looking for something new.  However, it wasn’t long before he was drawn into the stories, and pretty soon he was requesting them in the car, at bedtime, or just putting them while he was working on art projects or playing in his room.  He has listened to the entire series more times than I can count, and I know they’ve really impacted him because he’ll often ask me questions out of the blue that end up being about something he had heard in the Brinkman Adventures and had been thinking about for a while.

Beyond the Episodes

If you’re interested in The Brinkman Adventures you’ll definitely want to check out their website (and Facebook page).  Because the stories are based on a real family, many of the adventures are based on real life.  On the website you can find out about the true stories behind each episode and watch behind-the-scenes video.  If you want to hear an episode before purchasing anything you can even listen to one on the website for free (and if you explore the site you can find more than one!) They operate on a donation basis, with the suggested price for the entire season being $25 for a 4-CD set (with free shipping!) or $17 for an mp3 album, which you can download immediately.  Happy listening!

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