Weaving God’s Word Into Your Tweens: A Review

Products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

As a Christian homeschooling parent, I can get overzealous and overload my children with bible studies. Constantly reminding myself that too much of a good thing can just be too much, I am careful of what I add to their educational plates. Most bible studies I have found are good, some are better, and then there is Weave Your Word in Me — Part 1 by Kid Niche Christian Books.

There is much for me to share about what I like about this bible study consumable designed for Tweens and based upon the Lord’s Prayer. More than anything else worthy of noting is that it’s based upon the Lord’s Prayer, teaching children to learn the underlying truth’s of the Jesus’ prayer and applying it to their lives today. I like love that, a lot.

We were heading to a volleyball game the day that we received the package. Bookworm Beauty was the one to get the mail that day. I knew what was in the package and let her open it. It was a wonderful thing to witness her opening it because she was honestly not that thrilled about another bible study. Yet, as she opened the package, everything in her demeanor changed from indifferent to excited! Inside of the envelope was a beautifully wrapped package. This study could have been thrown into an envelope just fine and would still be just as valuable but the wrapping details made it appear important and special, just like the gift of God Himself. She carefully unwrapped the additional packaging, now treating it as if it were a special gift, just for her.

Inside were the full-sized loose leaf binder ready pages that make up the study. Quickly recognizing the possibility of pages getting damaged, she rewrapped them in the corrugated wrap until we got home. We decided that instead of a binder, we would laminate the cover pages and coil bind the study to make a book that will protect the pages while remaining less cumbersome than a binder. I realized that a binder would allow the ability to add note pages as well, but also recognized that pages are so easily torn out and misplaced. Creating a workbook made it possible for her to keep the study in her bed where she wanted it, to study at the end of the day.

We received the Part 1 of the Weave Your Word in Me study. The 36 lessons each have bible verses to read and fill-in-the-blank sentences to complete, as well as questions to inspire thought. The lessons end with a fill-in-the-blank My Prayer box that allows the child to personalize their pray. When they recite the prayer, they are essentially praying the Lord’s Prayer, customized by themselves. It’s beautiful and special.

There is a Part 2 of the Weave Your Word in Me study that has an additional 44 lessons that are also centered on the Lord’s Prayer. Each individual study is available for $20 or a combined pack is available for $30.

Bookworm Beauty has thoroughly enjoyed this study. Unlike many other studies out there, this one is short, concise, and to the point, yet lacking in nothing overall. She can complete a lesson in around 15 minutes, which she typically does at bedtime. I am not sure if she is going to request the Part 2 guide upon completing Part 1 or if she is going to desire the Pray-Like-Jesus Prayer Journal for Teens also by Susan Case Bonner and Kid Niche Christian Books. Either way, we are impressed!


Innovative and Ergonomic Educational Tools

Products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

One of the bittersweet moments of partnering with The Homeschool Review Crew takes place when I get to review something that I wish I had when my children were at the appropriate age for the particular product. I had one of these moments when selected to review The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors and The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit by The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Although both of the products were a hit in our house, I am going to start with scissors in my review for no reason other than their uniqueness. Having raised six children, I have experienced many moments of frustration with scissor use, everything from scissors being too dull to be effective for little hands to being sharp enough to cut hair and anything else that they can find! Pencil Grip’s Ultra Safe Safety Scissors has provided a solution to those many woes.

At first glance, the scissors looked awkward, but after sliding a piece of paper into the paper guide I experienced one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments. The scissors are small enough for smaller hands to grip properly and the blades are sharp enough to actually provide a clean cut. The guide keeps small fingers from making contact with the sharp blades, as well as toys or anything else that you do not want to be cut by the hands of a young child with scissors!

Although my children are well beyond the stage of needing monitoring with scissors, we still enjoyed using them, all of us. They worked well for all of us, better than many of the scissors we have accumulated over the years. The blade protection did not seem to inhibit a good clean cut even when doing some detailed cutting. However, it did get in the way of tiny cuts but we did not think that tiny detailed cutting would be necessary for younger children.

We really liked the scissors, but we are all skilled at using them. I decided that I needed to know how well they worked for someone with tiny hands so I headed over to a friend’s house to enlist the help of her four year old for our test. Little Ruby was handed both scissors and a piece of paper and she began cutting with ease! After sharing the I-wish-we-had-these-with-the-other-kids conversation with her momma, it was decided that the scissors were no longer mine but theirs. They have another toddler that will soon be cutting anything within reach and I know that these scissors will be very much appreciated.

In short, the Ultra Safe Safety Scissors has made my gift list for anyone I know with young children. They are available for a mere $4, which rivals the cost of child scissors anywhere.

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit was treated with just as much delight in our home. The only real difference is that they have not left our home to live elsewhere! Like the scissors, all of my children have learned the proper writing formation and no longer need these kinds of tools.

There are three different rubber grips that slip onto the bottom of a pen or pencil to teach a child to properly grip it for writing. We spent some time at the table, trying each of them out. For us, it was a confirmation that we all hold our writing utensils properly. Afterwards, each of my three children confiscated one of the grips and has it in their pencil box. I see it come out once in a while.

I used the old fashioned large round kindergarten style pencils to teach my younger children proper writing formation. I do wish that we had something like these pencil grips instead. Each grip has a specific shape to reinforce proper positioning of fingers when writing. The first one is called their Crossover Grip and holds the fingers where they need to be. The second one is their Pinch Grip which is considered the transition grip and has a little less structure allowing a bit more freedom. The final one is their Pencil Grip which allows for more freedom and is comfortable enough to be useful for all ages.

The grip set is available for purchase online for approximately $8. Packages of individual grips are also available. We do not have any lefthanders in our home to test it out but they are known to work with both right-handed and left-handed writers.

We thoroughly enjoy the fun products that we get to periodically review. It was a delight to be able to test out products from Pencil Grip, Inc. They have a nice variety of innovative tools for learners of all ages!

Improving Reading Skills Could Not Get Any Easier

A subscription was provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

I typically try to avoid using digital programs for basic curriculum in our homeschool, for a variety of reasons. Unless it is for a supplemental program, such as typing or engineering, any programs requiring the usage of an electronic device are heavily scrutinized in our home and it is with such scrutiny that I reviewed Reading Eggs.

Reading Eggs is an engaging online subscription-based reading program that teach kids ages 2-13 to read, and read well, through games and activities. Also included in the online subscription is access to Mathseeds, a similar type of interactive math program for kids ages 3-9.

It was almost a year ago that The Boy (then 6) was struggling to learn to read, while his best buddy was soaring through stories. All five of my daughters learned to read well at young ages so it was different for me to have a struggling reader. When I talked to his buddy’s mother about her sons reading, she accredited all of his success with Reading Eggs. That was the first time I had heard of the program and looked into getting a subscription when suddenly, everything seemed to finally click for The Boy and he no longer needed the subscription, or so I thought.

Fast forward nearly a year later and we had this opportunity to review this program. We were given two subscriptions, one for The Boy (now 7) and one for Sweetness (8). When setting up their accounts, I was given the option of one of three different levels in their program: Reading Eggs Junior (2-4), Reading Eggs (3-7), and Reading Eggspress (7-13). I set Sweetness up with Reading Eggspress level and The Boy with Reading Eggs had them complete their assessments to find out where they needed to start. Although I did not need to use it, I like the fact that I have the option to adjust the level of their lessons if I think that they need additional review or a more advanced level.

Although I prefer that the kids do not do a lot of school electronically, they see it as a treat and are always eager to jump right in and get started. Reading Eggs was no exception to that norm! The difference between this and other programs we have tried over the years, is that the kids’ interest was held. The program is set up in such a way that it is more like playing a game than studying. The first time Sweetness logged in after completing her assessment, she spent over two hours completing lessons and playing games with the eggs she had earned. It was addicting and she was eager to complete more lessons to earn more eggs so that she could continue playing the games.

One of the things that I appreciated when first looking into Reading Eggs is both the Lesson Overview section available under the About drop down menu on the home page and the 36-page downloadable Parent User Guide for Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress. The Lesson Overview provides a quick snapshot of each lesson. I quickly gravitated to the Spelling overview to find the word family that we are currently working on with The Boy. This allowed me to tailor his Reading Eggs Spelling lessons and games to coincide with the words he is needing to practice. This was a real treat for him and I both! He loved the activities and I really liked the fact that he learned those words with far more ease than previous word lists. The Parent User Guide is worth printing out or saving to your computer for easy access. This guide goes into greater detail of Reading Eggs. Along with the lesson overviews, you will find information on how to use the program, where to locate things like printable activity sheets, and how to navigate the program. Reading Eggs Junior is not covered in the Parent User Guide and I do not know if the program is run similar to Reading Eggs or Reading Eggspress so I can not comment on how useful the User Guide would be for someone working on the Junior program.

After enjoying Reading Eggs for the last several weeks, I have noticed that my children have been attempting to fill all of their discretionary time logged into their accounts. They have been able to use any device with internet access, including my cell phone during a long car ride. I can say with certainty that it has met our standards for electronic educational programs. Also worth noting, there are several apps available for iPhone and Android devices.

Another fabulous treat with Reading Eggs is their newly released homeschool guide downloadable resource that offers a detailed week-by-week overview for kids K-2nd grades. This guide is an excellent way to keep track of a child’s progress and stay on track with introducing new concepts.

It has become a common sight in my home to see Sweetness and The Boy snuggling on the couch with the laptop, giggling! I have appreciated their love of the program. They are quick to get all of their schoolwork done so that they can login to Reading Eggs and play some games. Anything that motivates the kids to complete their work is worth trying, and with their current 4-Week Free Trial, it is easy to try.

Inspiring Missionary Adventures

Products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

Wow! That is the best way for me to sum up our review experience with Brinkman Adventures Season 4 by Brinkman Adventures. We have been so impressed with this audio drama radio show that we are wondering why we waited so long to enjoy this fabulous product!

We were first exposed to the Brinkman Adventures nearly a year ago, in a conversation. It sounded like a great radio show but we were in the middle of several months of chaos in our home. I put my interest aside and unfortunately forgot all about it. Months passed and we were loaned the Season 1 CD’s, which were also set aside and nearly forgotten.

It was not until we were given the opportunity to review Season 4 that we actually took the time to begin listening. This has been one of those kick-yourself-for-not-doing-it-sooner experiences.

The Brinkman Adventures is a radio show that shares true and inspiring missionary stories through fictitious audio dramas. These stories have brought to life for us the dangerous adventures that missionaries often experience while sharing the Good News. Although some adventures include seemingly life-threatening experiences, they are family friendly stories for all ages. If an adventure has really difficult content, the beginning of the drama offers an explanation that some content in it could be a bit much for a child under the age of 10 that is listening without an adult. Sweetness and The Boy are both under 10 and were ok with all of the content of the episodes we have listened to thus far, but some children may need some guidance.

Each episode has enabled us to talk further about missions work and God’s hand in enabling the spreading of the Gospel. Although there are many situations that missionaries encounter, each story shows how God has protected them, provided for them, and ultimately changed the lives of many.

Talking about missionaries with the kids has been enjoyable, but the real value has come in watching the hearts of my children being prodded to remember to pray for missionaries. No one in our family has been called to the missions field, yet, but we believe it is still our responsibility to help by supporting missions through prayer and giving. I have been in awe, listening to my children pour their hearts out to God, asking for His protection and provision for various missionaries, some by name. It has been a tremendous blessing to have my children’s eyes opened to the life of a missionary in a way that I could hot have done. Although we have talked about missions over the years, The Brinkman Adventures have brought it to life for us and we feel that we are right there with them in the mission field as they spread the Good News.

One of the episodes involved the salvation of a witch doctor in the Congo. As the story unfolded and the witch doctor received Jesus, The Boy (7), let out a victorious “WOW!” What struck me in that moment was that my 7 year old understood the life transformation that had taken place as an enemy of Christ found the love of Jesus!

Another episode involved Nhu, a young girl in Cambodia that was sold into slavery to work in a salon. The audio drama only shared part of her story as the true story of Nhu is that at the age of 12, she was a victim of sex trafficking, sold by her grandmother. This is heavy material and unfortunately, a reality for many children in our world. Although I did not go into detail about Nhu’s true story with the younger two children, I did talk with Bookworm Beauty (12) about this reality. I appreciate how the Brinkman Adventures create opportunities for me to broach more difficult subjects with my children. Although the younger two were not aware of the sex trafficking,we were still able to talk about child slavery. This was still a heavy subject and it allowed us to be able to discuss the evil that surrounds us in this world. This episode gave the children another specific area to pray for and has given Bookworm Beauty another reason to be mindful and attentive in public as sex trafficking is a real issue worldwide, including right here in America.

Our normal bedtime routine usually involves some sort of family gathering as one of us reads from a good book, we watch a fruitful movie or show, play a game or listen to an audio drama. Lately, the only thing the kids have wanted to do is hear another Brinkman Adventure and then another! Brinkman Adventures Season 4 is available as a digital download or physical CD’s and consists of 12 episodes, each just under a half hour. We listened to all of season 4 within a few days because they were just that good! The kids wanted more and fortunately for us, we have the few CD’s from Season 1 still hanging around. We have begun working through Season 1 and I am quickly realizing that we will need to buy the rest of the seasons to add to our family library!


Worksheets Worth Having in Your Homeschool

Products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

There are many times that I am able to review a product that I have desired to have and therefore greet the opportunity as if I was doing handsprings! There are other times that I am less thrilled at the opportunity, usually because it is a product that I would not normally consider adding to our homeschooling repertoire. Regardless, I always take on the task and give a fair review. The Individual Membership through Super Teacher Worksheets was one of those reviews that I was not very enthusiastic about initially, but I gave it my all, and quickly found that I should have been more excited from the beginning!

Worksheets are just one of those things that I typically avoid in our classroom. The main reason for me is clutter. With three kids in our school, it is hard to keep our classroom from being cluttered as it is. They are also hard for me to keep organized and oftentimes are become that one-more-extra-piece-of-paper that I just do not want to worry about. To be fair, we do use workbooks which are basically just a book full of worksheets, but being neatly bound together, they seem much easier for me to manage overall.

Setting my preconceived notions aside, I jumped right into Super Teacher Worksheets as soon as my subscription was made available to me. I spent nearly an hour perusing the website and was shocked to find how thorough this collection of worksheets was! I can not possibly list the amount of worksheets available for immediate download, so I will share what I have earmarked for our use.

I went through the list and looked at subjects that we do not study formally but the kids still need the experience and knowledge, like map skills. I was also intrigued at the list of notable people, most of which we will cover at some point in our studies and will have the ability to have a way of reinforcing what is learned, such as Amelia Earhart (which happens to be Bookworm Beauty’s most recent obsession). In Science, there are worksheets on practical studies like Graduated Cylinders – Volume. We are studying physics this year and these worksheets intrigued me as it reinforces reading volumes with or without decimals. I love that I was able to print out multiple sheets at different age levels.

That brings me to another point! When I print out a reinforcing worksheets on something that we are learning together, it does not have to be a one-sized-fits-all! For example, with the graduated cylinders, each of the kids are at completely different age levels. I gave Bookworm Beauty the worksheets with decimals and the other two received worksheets without. Nearly every subject has worksheets in multiple levels of difficulty.

Probably the single greatest area of Super Teacher Worksheets is the worksheet generator. This is a fantastic tool and in my opinion would would make this website subscription worth it, all by itself. In the generator tools one could make word searches, fill in the blanks, crossword puzzles, multiple choice quizzes, flashcards and more! I immediately thought about the hours I spent making flashcards recently when we were memorizing the bones of the body, ahhhhh – so much time could have been saved!

The first worksheets I printed out were the multiplication worksheets. I decided that I would take a break from our normal math routine and change things up a bit. Remembering my own third grade year and how we focused on memorizing the multiplication facts, I decided that it would be a good time to work with Sweetness, who is now in third grade herself. There were multiple options for me to print out but I decided instead to use the worksheet generator tool. I created individual worksheets for reviewing the multiplication facts through 12. I was able to select the number of problems (50) the range of the first factor (whichever fact I wanted the focus to be on for that sheet) and the range of the second factor (I typed in 0-12), selected the option to save the worksheet in my online folder and then hit the create worksheet button. It was that simple! I created sixteen worksheets, one worksheet for each fact from 0-12. I know I did not need to create a worksheet for 0 or 1, and not really for 2, 5, or 10 either, but the kids especially enjoyed filling out the easy ones. It was fun watching them race the clock to write 50 0’s on the 0 worksheet!

My intention was to focus on Sweetness with the multiplication worksheets, but while I was working on creating the worksheets, Bookworm Beauty noticed what I was doing and asked if I would print out a set for her too, because she needed help with a few facts. It was a good thing too because although she soared through most of them, she did struggle with her 7’s and 8’s. She also never committed to memory any facts from 12-15. I was disappointed that the worksheet generator only allowed us to create facts to 12. I really wanted them to memorize through 15. I had to create my own sheets for 13-15, but ultimately, that is not a big deal. We are timing these worksheets and I am happy to say that Sweetness has successfully completed 0, 1, 2, and 3. She is working on them in order and has started the 4’s. We spent quite a bit of time on the 3’s. She knew the 3’s but hesitated and just was not completing them in the three minute time frame. I know, many people would consider that unnecessary but I really want basic math facts committed to memory.

Another set of worksheets that are available are on cursive writing. I would have taken the time to print off all of those worksheets but my mother in law is a retired elementary school teacher and had more cursive packets than we could ever use. I know that this is another controversial educational component but I believe that my kids should be able to read and write cursive with correct formation. Although I did not use these worksheets, I mention them because they are there and I would have used them if I did not have that resource covered.

Although I have had my opinions about worksheets, I have to be honest about something I have noticed with my own kids. I dislike the disorganization and clutter that worksheets create, but they simply love them! I realized that I really should allow more time in our school for them and decided that one of the best ways to do that is to allow the kids access to the website. Whenever we are studying something and they decide that they want a worksheet, they can login and find one that will work. They love this flexibility and the website is user-friendly enough to make that possible even for The Boy (7). I have a feeling I am just going to have to deal with the clutter that I see on the horizon!

Also worth noting, my kids really enjoy playing school with each other and with their friends. Bookworm Beauty is already talking about compiling some of the worksheets that are on Super Teacher Worksheets so that she can be the teacher the next time around. Hmmm, can I really find anything to complain about with that thought? In play, they are learning. Super Teacher Worksheets has changed my view of worksheets!

Another Exciting Adventure!

Products were provided to us through our participation of the Homeschool Review Crew for review purposes

I have always been a positive person and naturally look for the best in everything. As such, there are times when I have an opportunity to review a product that I find myself delicately focused on the positives and carefully wording the things that I feel are weaknesses. However, when it comes to
Heirloom Audio Productions, the reverse would be true! I have to search to find something that I feel could be improved upon. With Captain Bayley’s Heir, the only negative was that there was an ending to the story. Like a long awaited for vacation, the audio adventure was fun and lively and just ended too soon, we simply wanted to hear more!

Captain Bailey’s Heir is a fabulous tale that begins in London, works it’s way across the Atlantic to the United States, then westward to California during the gold rush and comes full circle to end back in London. Frank, a young lad is set up and then falsely accused of a crime when with a little persuasion, he runs to America with plans to earn his own fortune and ultimately clear his name. Through a series of events, Frank makes it to California and finds gold. Although achieving his own wealth, the real wealth he receives is learning of God’s grace, being reunited with his loved ones and clearing his name.

While the story itself was a joy to listen to, I really appreciated the underlying story in this adventure. We learned about character, the power of our word, kindness, grace and forgiveness. We also see how God literally provided for every need that Frank had, always at the exact time that he needed it. God interwove people into Frank’s life from the beginning to the end, each a blessing to encourage, teach and guide him along his journey.

We recently brought the full audio production along with us on a long car ride. The production is approximately two hours, on two separate discs. When I take schoolwork on car rides, I am mindful of the kids’ inattentiveness and I make sure that we have plenty of breaks along the way. I did exactly that after the first disc. I checked in with the kids to make sure that they were listening and offered to listen to the second disc at a later time. Each of them expressed their disdain at the thought of stopping midway!

The audio production is nonstop adventure, filled with tales of affection, gunshots, wagon caravans, death, sorrow and grace. However, the adventure does not have to end there. An accompanying study guide is available, which enabled our family to review parts of the story and go even further through our discussion. To me, this is where the real meat of a good program is. In our culture, we have many opportunities to be entertained and often, that is as far as it goes. Heirloom Audio provides productions that truly are rich in entertainment but they provide the study guide to encourage us to capitalize on the underlying message and teaching points. There are two sets of questions pertaining to each audio track, Listening Well and Thinking Further. The Listening Well section includes general comprehension questions, such as What does Frank ask Mr. Hall? and What happens next? The Thinking Further questions require much greater thought and provide meaningful discussion such as This whole section reveals again a real flaw in Frank’s character and thinking, what was it? This question allowed us to talk about how easy it is for us to believe something incorrectly and ultimately make decisions based on the untruth. Many people spend a majority of their lives making decisions based on a lie and miss out on many blessings.

Heirloom Audio has also created an amazing online club Live the Adventure Club. This club is filled with history resources. I recently became a member of the club when we reviewed In The Reign of Terror and have literally spent hours perusing historical content. There are several history books in digital form that were written in the 1800’s. Also available is The Crash Course on the Constitution. 

There are several public domain old time radio programs to stream as well. Although this site has hours of history resources, it doesn’t end there. There is also kid activities, a community forum, articles and an inspiration section.

We are pleased to have been introduced to Heirloom Audio Productions and look forward to many new adventures!

Imagine…The Great Flood: A Book Review

Our home library is beginning to burst at the seams with fantastic books that we have enjoyed this last  year. I need to admit that I was not exactly excited at the prospect of reviewing yet another book this year, but in hindsight I am thankful that we took the time to read Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich from Barbour Publishing.

We began reading this book as another family read aloud just days after receiving it. However, we ended up having a string of house guests over a couple week period which interrupted our family time for finishing it. When things settled back into normalcy and we reached for the book, we found that it was no longer where we keep our current read alouds. It was then that Bookworm Beauty quietly retreated to her room to recover it from her bed. She sheepishly confessed that she simply could not wait any longer to find out what was going to happen to Corey. She planned to only read a chapter to find out, but ultimately found herself reading the rest of the book! After poking much fun at her inability to exercise self-control with a really good and suspenseful book, we finished reading it together.

Imagine… The Great Flood is a suspenseful and engaging novel. It tells a tale of a ten-year-old boy from Texas, Corey, that is frustrated and disappointed about his family’s decision to relocate to Florida. In the midst of his current day dilemma, he ends up somehow in the middle of Mesopotamia in 2400 BC. He quickly finds himself befriending Shem, one of Noah’s sons. His adventure is wild as he runs from the Nephilim, faces many wild yet oddly tame animals and sees first hand the steadfast faith Noah lived.

Although this biblically historical fiction novel is not a true to life story, the overall event most certainly is. There was an ark. Noah was a faithful man. Nephilim are real. What intrigued me the most about the story is the realization that Noah was a man, a regular man, just like any other man. Yes, he was different and he was credited with faithfulness, but he was still a man. I often forget that fact when I read through the amazing stories in the Old Testament. I never stop to really think about what things must have been like in the every day lives of these heroes. Reading this book opened my eyes to that reality in a different way than before.

Imagine… The Great Flood was written primarily for kids ages 8-12, yet we all enjoyed it and agreed that it was a fantastic book. Bookworm Beauty enjoyed the suspense more than anything else, thus the secret reading of it. Sweetness and The Boy both liked learning about the animals and the Nephilim. Handsome and I both appreciated the parallel within the book of how the events of young Corey’s adventure leads him to resolve his own conflict with the idea of moving across county. I also determined that it wasn’t just a good book, but also timely as the images of the hurricanes and flooding in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico were everywhere we looked. As we watched the video footage and images, we were reminded of how minuscule these floods were in comparison to what mankind faced during the time of Noah.

We are looking forward to the next book in this epic series, Imagine… The Ten Plagues, due to be released March 2018.

Purposing to Make Family Memories

Handsome’s family is close, very close. It is such a wonderful experience to be part of a family that truly loves and supports one another. When we first met, he and his three siblings lived within twenty miles of each other, making it easy to get together for the various birthday parties, holidays and just because. We were all a part of each others daily lives and the next generation quickly went from crawling together to playing ball in the yard, making memories.

Leave it to an uncle to give the bunny ears!

A few years after we married, six to be exact, the families began to spread their wings a bit, each wanting to get out of the Denver Metropolitan area. His parents and a brother stayed put in the heart of Denver, the rest scattered outward. One went North about forty miles. One went Southwest about a hundred miles and we headed Southeast a hundred twenty miles. No more play dates. No more hey, let’s meet at mom’s Thursday night, just because. We all loved our new areas that we were digging roots into, but missed our frequent family gatherings.

Family has always been important to each of us, it just proved a bit harder to do anything unplanned. So planned, we did. We decided to get together quarterly. There are four siblings, so each year we all take a season to plan a get together and do something purposeful, fun and memory making.

This year, we had summer. We tried to find a date that worked for everyone, but as the kids get older, obligations just get more difficult to work around. We were finally able to plan something for Labor Day weekend and decided to just host the event here out on the prairie.

It always takes a lot out of me to plan the get togethers. I want things to be fun, purposeful and memorable. Sometimes, I forget that just being together is all that really matters. This year, I decided to focus on just that, memories. We laughed. We played. We ate and ate again and again. We launched fireworks. We shot our guns (don’t judge). The kids swam, played games and slept on the trampoline. The biggest event, though, was the family photo session.

It is difficult to get everyone together, and usually when we try, there is still someone missing. This family picture was becoming a necessity as kids are growing and moving on, and there have been three more children born since the last photo (and the youngest is six)!

We were still missing one child for the photo, and we will think of her every time we look at the photo but she started college that week and was settling in. For me, however the photo was special as it is rare that all six of my kids are together. Even more exciting is that this is the last of family photos before the next generation begins. I will treasure this for sure. It is the beginning of a new era in our lives as we become grandparents. I only wish that I was as fortunate as my mother in law and had all of my children within miles of each other to get together easily and watch the grandchildren make memories together.

It was a fun weekend. Just as fun has been viewing our photos and deciding on which ones to put onto the wall. The years keep passing us by and it is getting more and more important to sprinkle them with purposeful memories!

Unauthorized Family Game Night: A Review

With six kids, we have learned over the years just how important spending quality time together really is. Sometimes we just sit back and enjoy each others company. Other times, however, we opt for a more structured time together and spend days engrossed in a really good read-a-loud or an evening filled with fierce unbridled competition a.k.a. game night.

Unauthorized, by Chara Games is the newest addition to our family game night repertoire. This quick card game may be small and unassuming but is so much more than meets the eye!

Chara Games was established in 2014 by a husband and wife team that wanted to create quality games that have a purpose. Each game is designed to challenge the players to think about faith through play. Their mission says it all: Building games that create joy by developing relationships with God and people.

We look forward to reviewing many products, but games are met with an even greater excitement than normal. It is just plain fun to play games. It was a pleasure to receive a small box, which will fit nicely into our newly cleaned out, sorted and minimized game closet. It is also nice to be small enough to take with us camping or to a friend’s house.

Our first experience setting up the game was extremely slow going for us. I am not complaining by any means. I was aware that there was an instructional video available but I wanted to attempt the game with just the instructions given with the game itself. The instructions were confusing. As we sat around the table, anxious to get started with the game, much time was spent simply trying to make sense of the instructions themselves. Now that I have played the game, I can look at the instructions and they make complete sense, but I felt that initially, some of the instructions were not easily understood. Again, I could have watched the video.

The first time that we sat down to play, we played two games. The first game was slow, as is expected when learning a new game. The kids did not understand the reason for different steps or options, and I did not have the experience or understanding to enlighten them or provide any meaningful guidance. However, once we completed the game and had a better understanding of the process, we were able to make some assessments of the value of different options within the game. For example, a player may decide to “speak to a neighbor” a polite way of saying “look at a neighbor’s hand.” Initially, the value of seeing a neighbor’s hand was not fully understood and this option seemed a bit odd, but once you play the game a few times and begin to develop strategy, you quickly understand the value of knowing what cards a neighbor may be holding.

This quick card game is designed to be played with 6-12 players. Players are part of a conflict between the state and an underground church and the goal is to sway loyalty of others to either the state or the church. Although the intended age range is 12+, the game can be enjoyed with children around 8 years old. We have successfully played Unauthorized with our three youngest kids that are 7, 8 and 12. I will note, however, that although The Boy (7) and Sweetness (8) can engage in play just fine, they do not seem to have yet grasped how to develop a strategy with this game. I am sure that it will come with more experience and play, but in the meantime, when playing with them, the game is not as competitive as I believe it would be with a group of older kids or adults that understood the game. I am really looking forward to testing this theory out when we have our fellow homeschool blogging friends (also reviewing the game) over for dinner and games.

The game elicited lively conversation between us all. In my opinion, this was probably the single most important element of the game (I can’t help but be a teach-the-kids-every-moment-possible-mom). The cards are unlike traditional playing cards with numbers, letters or shapes but rather meaningful cards that are used to influence play but could just as easily cause you to ponder how our life experiences influence our decisions about faith. For example, one of the State cards says, Meaningless Traditions: Why do Christians do these silly things? Another State card says, Clergy Abuse: A sacred trust once violated isn’t easy to restore. These are real issues in many people’s lives that are difficult to overcome and a serious hindrance to one’s faith. The Church cards are equally thought-provoking. Once says, Experience Forgiveness: Freedom unlike any other and another says Witness a Miracle: We are forever changed by what we have seen. There are also neutral cards. These cards can go either way because when an individual has one of these experiences it typically causes them to either seek faith or push faith away. These were things like, Serious Illness or Family Member Dies. All of these experience cards allowed us to talk, as a family about our faith and the things that challenge it as well as the things that build it up. Honestly, anything that helps a family or a group of people actually talk about these kinds of experiences is a beautiful thing. That makes this game far more valuable than most any game we own.

At the surface level, Unauthorized is a simplistic concept, but when played as intended, it is thought-provoking, conversation-initiating and could ultimately by life-changing.

Blast Off!

I never thought that science would become one of our favorite subjects in our homeschool. Honestly, I would not have thought that it would have been anything more than a subject to be checked off each year. I fully expected that we would cover math, language arts, history and science would be something added to our plate to ensure a well-rounded school experience.

Then it happened.

We moved to the prairie and suddenly it is as if we are living in on-going science experiments. We have witnessed weather unlike anything we have ever experienced before; all forms seem to be magnified out here in our own little expanse of wide-open land. We have encountered forms of wildlife (and dissected many of them): piglets, rattlesnakes, dragonflies, porcupines, skunks (no, we have not yet dissected a skunk or porcupine but we have collected some quills)! We have witnessed the cycles of life with rabbits, cats, dogs and goats. We have even enjoyed some of the most incredible sunrises and sunsets and have learned what causes the incredible colors within them. I know that science is all around everyone, but we simply did not experience things the same way when we lived in our little box in the middle of a crammed neighborhood. There is just something about having space and visibility.

This year, our science focus is chemistry and physics. I was not sure who was more excited about it, the kids or me, until the boys made a request. The Boy had his best bud over for a night. They are always busy building things like ramps to launch themselves into the abyss of our acreage, or pulleys to try and transport an object from one place to another. I just love their scientific, inquisitive minds.

The Boy and Tobmeister ran into the kitchen, interrupting my in-depth chemistry experiment that would result in dinner, with the biggest cheesy grins you could imagine. I knew instantly that they were brewing up something of their own. Then their eyes took on the irresistible charm, that they seem to be famous for, as they ask if they could launch rockets. “It’s science, Mom!” he added, as if it would seal the deal.

I looked over at the boys and saw their rumpled heads that was sure to contain as much dirt as hair and I did what every good science-teaching-mom would do. I relented. I just could not resist the double cuteness that stood before me.

I set my kitchen experiment aside and headed to the great outdoors.

Within minutes, the two scientists had mouths full of Big League Chew, Handsome’s requirement for rocket launching, and were busy making the preparations. The Boy had his new rocket ready to experience it’s inaugural launch and began to stuff the chamber with the necessary wadding. Handsome made a few  modifications to properly secure the engine and we were set for take-off.

The countdown was heard through excited mouths filled beyond capacity with grape gum. When the resounding announcement of “BLAST OFF!” was made, the rocket was gone, leaving only it’s smoke trail behind.

As a proud mama bear, I watched the two careen their heads back to assess where the rocket would land. With excitement, they both ran to retrieve it and quickly returned asking if they could “do it again!”

Do it again, we did.

These are moments that I treasure. Moments spent witnessing what boyhood is all about: buddies, dirt and science (and bubble gum too, of course)!