Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Review: Ishtar's Odyssey by Arnold Ytreeide

Our family has been reading the Ytreeide Advent books for years. We were so excited when the Lent book was finally released. We thought the series was complete at that point. I was so surprised, but pleased, to discover Ishtar's Odyssey this fall. I'm not sure if this will be the last book in the series or not, but it seems like it would complete the series. We've already followed Jotham, Bartholomew, and Tabitha through the Advent season to the manger-scene. Now we get to follow Ishtar, a prince of Persia, to his meeting with the Messiah.

As with Jotham's Journey, the beginning of the book shows us a pretty unimpressive Ishtar. He's selfish, immature, pampered and protected. Joining his father in the caravan to find the new King opens his life to a whole new adventure. For the first time he has to wait to eat. For the first time, he meets hardship face to face. For the first time, he isn't the center of his own little universe. As his journey progresses, he matures and grows wiser. He also begins to examine his beliefs about the gods and his thoughts on this new baby king, the Messiah. By the end of the book, he's a much more likeable Ishtar.

Mr. Ytreeide breaks the story up into cliff-hanger chapters, one for each day of the Advent season. Each chapter (as with all his books) leaves children eagerly waiting to hear the next day's adventure. At the end of each chapter, Arnold Ytreeide also has a short devotional thought. These devotions walk our family through the meaning of Christmas, and our own personal need for a Savior.

It can be hard to get the entire family to sit quietly for devotions sometimes. Often I have to pull the youngest children away from the group so everyone else can focus. However, we have always felt that these Advent books were worth the effort. Our children enjoy the stories and they do learn from the devotions. I am so glad that we have a fourth book to add to our Advent devotions, and we will be reading Ishtar's Odyssey this year. I think, technically, we should have been reading Tabitha's Travels this year, but we'll gladly read Ishtar's Odyssey instead.

If you already have the Jotham series by Ytreeide, then you'll definitely want to buy Ishtar's Odyssey. If you don't have the Jotham's Journey series ... I highly recommend all four Advent books, as well as the Easter story for Lent!

April E.

Monday, November 16, 2015

2015 Blue Ribbon Awards from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

The Schoolhouse Review Crew is wrapping up for 2015 and the Crew families have voted on their favorite products from this year.

Check out our Blue Ribbon Awards!

Favorite Reading Curriculum: Reading Kingdom
Favorite Writing Curriculum: Institute for Excellence in Writing
Favorite Vocabulary Program: Dynamic Literacy
Favorite Penmanship Program: CursiveLogic
Favorite Literature Curriculum: Progeny Press

Favorite History Curriculum: Home School in the Woods
Favorite Science Curriculum: Visual Learning Systems
Favorite Science Supplement: Ann McCallum Books: Eat Your Science Homework
Favorite Math Curriculum: CTC Math
Favorite Math Supplement: SimplyFun

Favorite Christian Education Curriculum: Grapevine Studies
Favorite Christian Education Supplement: Brinkman Adventures
Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum: Middlebury Interactive Language
Favorite Fine Arts Product: Maestro Classics
Favorite Elective Curriculum: Apologia Educational Ministries: Field Trip Journal
Favorite Audio Drama: Brinkman Adventures
Favorite Video:

Favorite Preschool Product: La La Logic
Favorite Elementary Product: Star Toaster
Favorite Middle School Product: The Critical Thinking Co
Favorite High School Product: Writing with Sharon Watson
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Freedom Project Education
Favorite Parent Product: Koru Naturals

Best Resource I Didn't Know I Needed: Homeschool Planet
Best Online Resource: Super Teacher Worksheets
Best e-Product: Home School in the Woods
Just for Fun: USAopoly
Kids' Choice: La La Logic
Teens' Choice: YWAM Publishing
All Around Crew Favorite: Institute for Excellence in Writing

That is my final post for the 2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew. I'll be taking 2016 off, so you will have to visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to follow next year's reviews. It was a great year, but our family needs to regroup and get better organized before we apply again.

April E. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Crew Review: Fun-Time Phonics from The Critical Thinking Co.

I have always been impressed with any curriculum we have used from The Critical Thinking Co. Always. When they appeared on the Schoolhouse Review Crew review list for a second time this year, I was happy to volunteer. We received a copy of Fun-Time Phonics to use with our children and review.

As with every Critical Thinking Co. product I've used, Fun-Time Phonics is a paperback workbook. It is 314 pages long, with 100 activities included. Some activities are several pages long, and should be broken into smaller segments with young readers. The book is full-sized, measuring 8.5 x 11 inches, and one inch thick.

Some workbooks from The Critical Thinking Co. are consumable, though most allow photocopying for family use. Fun-Time Phonics doesn't involve any writing. Every activity is completed by pointing, so this book is completely reusable and non-consumable.

Fun-Time Phonics uses colorful illustrations in all the activities. The pictures represent words that are listed for the parent at the bottom of the page, or along the outer edge of the page. This is a pre-reading workbook. There aren't any words to read in it until the final 13 pages. Though my son was using his reading skills to figure out some of the activities.

I first tested this with my 7 year old son, who has already learned the basics of reading. He can read 3 letter words easily and is gaining confidence in reading larger words. The beginning sections of the book were a breeze for him. He did struggle with the letter-switching activity where they replaced the middle vowel with a different vowel. He had never done that before. We also used Fun-Time Phonics to practice hearing different vowel sounds and identifying them. This is actually a skill he will need in learning to spell and write.

When I used it with my 4 year old pre-reading daughter, we started at the beginning and found it was more a fit for her. We moved slowly, working through the early pages. We soon had to stop, as she was not ready for the later activities. She may need more time to be ready for reading lessons, or she may need extra review.

I like the different way some of the activities approached phonics. The Critical Thinking Co. uses a comprehension approach in Fun-Time Phonics. The vowel-switching activity to create a new word was new and challenging for my son. The largest portion of the book has the child picking which image begins with a certain 2 letter combination.  (Which word begins with be_ ?) This was also a mind-stretching activity for my son. However, I can't stop using our reading curriculum with him, since he is basically beyond the scope of this book. Although using this does increase his understanding of the word-building process.

Although Fun-Time Phonics is intended to be a complete, stand-alone phonics curriculum, I am having a hard time trusting that it will work on its own. It is obviously a great supplemental resource for teaching phonics, but I don't think it can stand alone as a reading/phonics curriculum. At least, not for my children.

Fun-Time Phonics is available as a paperback book for $39.99, or as a Windows download for 2 computers for $19.99. If you want it for up to 6 computers, the price is also $39.99.

Don't forget to follow The Critical Thinking Co. on social media:

April E.

The Critical Thinking Company Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: The Ology by Marty Machowski

 I have to admit that we struggle with having regular devotions as a family. We are actively involved in our church and all their youth ministries. We have Advent devotions each year. We answer questions as they arise, and we encourage our older children in their personal devotions. But we haven't had a regular, systematic study of the Bible or Christian doctrines at home.  Our age ranges, differing attention spans, and the noise levels of our home have made our efforts at family devotions difficult and discouraging. Steve and I have been talking about how to change that. This book is part of our solution.

The Ology is a beautiful, hardcover book from New Growth Press. Marty Machowski is a pastor, author, and father of six children. He does an excellent job breaking doctrine and theology down into bite-sized, easily understood lessons. Each of the 71 lessons is just 1 or 2 pages long. They build upon each other to fully explain the Christian doctrines about God, people, sin, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Bible, the End Times, and more.

The book is gently illustrated by Andy McGuire, with skillful, colored pencil artwork. Each illustration contains Bible verses that relate to the topic. Marty Machowski encourages parents to work through the book once as devotions, then return to it a second time and look up the Bible verses that go with each lesson the second time. Or if an older child is reading it alone, he can look up the Bible verses on the first time through the book. I personally prefer reading through the book once, giving two days to each lesson. Read the lesson on day one, and look up the Bible scriptures and discuss them on the second day. There are also questions (and an answer key) at the back to help your child really think about the doctrine and how it applies to his life - what does it really mean?

I highly recommend The Ology. It does seem to be coming from a Calvinist theological viewpoint, but I've read the chapters where our Wesleyan theology differs, and I won't have a problem using The Ology in our home. It may open some discussion about differences in denomination beliefs, but that isn't a bad thing. We've always tried to discuss those respectfully with our children as they grow.

I love this book! I'm enjoying reading it with my children and we will continue to work through it. The lessons are short enough to make it through before little ones lose interest and become a distraction. I do think The Ology is our answer for creating a solid foundation for our children's faith, along with the lessons they're receiving at church. As parents, we need to be teaching Scripture at home. We know that, we just have struggled to find something manageable for our family. Now we have a plan again!

April E.

Crew Review: Eat Your Science Homework from Ann McCallum Books

I had never heard of Ann McCallum Books before it appeared on the Schoolhouse Review Crew's list of upcoming review items. It was fun to poke around her website and see all the wonderful, educational books for children that she has written. In the end, I was glad we were chosen to review Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds. We've used cooking to explore history before, but we'd never really used it for science before. Not to mention, I can always use some help finding hands-on ways to make science fun!

When Eat Your Science Homework arrived, the kids had fun flipping through it, looking at the six recipes and the science topics they explored. We had debates over which recipe to make first: Sedimentary Pizza Lasagna, Black Hole Swallow-Ups, Loop Whorl and Arch Cookies, Atomic Popcorn, or Invisible Ink Snack Pockets. No one was very interested in the Density Dressing and Veggie Sticks. I guess that sounded too healthy.

In the end the Invisible Ink Snack Pockets won for our first attempt at eating our science homework. I'm sure it's because the kids quickly realized it was basically a pizza pocket and they love pizza! I used store bought pizza crust dough because I was feeling a little lazy about making my own crust. The kids helped me fill each pocket. Our edges didn't seal very tight, but that didn't seem to matter -- for taste, or the experiment.

After we had filled the pockets and folded them shut, we mixed up our invisible ink paste. The directions for this were a little vague and I accidentally used a bit too much water. It only needs a LITTLE bit of water. We discovered that the kids needed to dip deeper into the thick paste and not the watery surface in order for it to show up. Our last pan turned out best, after two trial runs. When it cooked, the ink did show up. Do you see my TOS pocket in the front left corner?  The kids had fun labeling their pockets and then picking it out to eat afterwards.

Pizza is always good, right? But especially when you get to make it yourself and decorate the top of it. The kids did complain that the ink had a sweetness they could taste on their pocket. You might encourage your kids to keep their decorations light when they make theirs, and not to overdo it.

But how is that science, you might be wondering? Well, each recipe is introduced with a page that explains the science topic a little. In this case, the children learned about oxidation and the pH scale. They even learned a bit about ions, atoms, protons and electrons. In other words, it fit in perfectly with my 11 year old son's current Chemistry lessons!

Each recipe is concluded with a few more ways to explore the subject. We were given suggestions for different liquids to try as invisible inks on paper. We also learned the difference between chemical and physical reactions. As we talked about it, we also remembered the movie National Treasure and the scene where they're looking for invisible ink messages on the back of The Declaration of Independence. While that is a fictional movie, it brought up the fact that invisible inks were used historically ... just maybe not on The Declaration of Independence. It led to a fun discussion!

As you can see in the pictures, Eat Your Science Homework has colorful, cartoon illustrations by Leeza Hernandez. The illustrations help make the book fun, interesting, and inviting. It draws the children in, and gets them reading about each topic. It also gives them something to look at while you read aloud.

There are only 6 recipes in this book, but it can be used in many ways. You can use it as a resource to pull out when these topics arise in your science curriculum. You can use it for fun school days, if you like to have a Fun Friday once a month. You can use it for some educational fun during the summer, as well. I think that's my favorite, actually.

The book itself begins with an explanation of the Scientific Method, as well as safety tips for cooking in the kitchen. I like that she encourages them to experiment and develop a hypothesis after each recipe. The book ends with a two page review of the topics covered in the book, as well as a glossary of science vocabulary. The glossary can be used to prepare vocabulary quizzes or spelling tests, if you're really ambitious.

Eat Your Science Homework is a fun resource to add to your home library, whether you homeschool or like to explore science with your kids after school. The paperback version which we received is sold for $7.95 and the hardcover version is sold for $16.95. There are also two other books in the series: Eat Your Math Homework and Eat Your U.S. History Homework. You can read reviews about all three books at the Schoolhouse Review Crew website.

April E.

Ann McCallum Books Review

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fall Favorites: Trunk 'N Treat and Science Fairs (episode 8)

We have had a hectic week. Since I last posted, we had our church's annual Trunk 'N Treat outreach, church, the 4H Achievement Banquet, school, Crew reviews, and our homeschool group's Science Fair. Oh, 5 yo V also had her 6 month eye exam, and no longer needs to wear an eye patch on her weaker eye! That was great news!

But on to the pictures ...

Trunk 'N  Treat costumes. I skipped mine and Steve's, though. :)

Homeschool Science Fair was FUN!

She isn't ready to let it go. The science fair lives on ... and on ... and on ...

That's what our fall looks like this week.

April E.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Crew Review: Brinkman Adventures, Season 3

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review

I had heard of The Brinkman Adventures before, but we hadn't made it a priority to purchase them. I was very excited to be chosen to review Brinkman Adventures Season 3.  Our family has enjoyed audio dramas before, but we haven't heard any missionary audio dramas before. We were missing out!

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review

At first, I was the only one excited about the CD set of season 3 when it arrived. We had these CD's for awhile but I couldn't convince the kids to listen to them. The kids expected them to be boring and didn't want to sit quietly to listen. One morning, I put the first CD in so I could start listening to them myself. Soon the children woke up. One by one they settled down and began listening. We finished the first CD in one setting, and the room was totally quiet the entire time. I hooked them!

The Brinkman Adventures are extremely well-made audio dramas. Our children are pretty much tv and video game addicted (yeah, no one ever said we were perfect homeschoolers), but they have enjoyed these CD stories. It is a great way to break away from screen time for awhile. We also enjoy audio dramas on long road trips. It helps keep the peace on those sixteen hour drives to Grandma's house.

One of our family's favorite missionary stories is that of the Saint family and the Waodani people of Ecuador. We were so excited to see that those stories were included in this season's episodes. After watching two different movies about them, it was interesting to hear the story in a different way from Steve Saint himself. I hadn't heard about his injury before, so that part of his story was new to us.

Whenever I put another episode on, the older children started listening. It got quieter, and they shushed the youngest two children so they could hear better. I didn't expect that. I thought there would be more difficulty in getting them to listen. But the stories always drew them right in.

After getting to hear these stories, we are sold on The Brinkman Adventures! I will be adding the first two seasons to our family library. I love that the stories aren't just fictional - they are stories based on real people and real events. I appreciate that my children are hearing true stories of people serving God when we listen to them. I pray God uses them to inspire my children to serve Him in whatever way He has planned for them.

Each episode of The Brinkman Adventures is based on a true story. There may be name changes or some fictionalized parts of the story. Whenever we finished an episode, we would read the "rest of the story" at the website. The website always explained exactly what parts were changed and what parts were true.

Each season of The Brinkman Adventures is available for $27.99 in physical CD form, or for $17.99 in mp3 digital download form. I'm old-fashioned and prefer the CD's rather than mp3's, but the mp3 format makes it more affordable, as well as available around the world.

You can listen to a sample episode online at their website. Enjoy!

Our family completely recommends The Brinkman Adventures audio dramas! Five stars from us! You can read about them at The Brinkman Adventures website, and follow them on facebook.

April E.

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review

Crew Disclaimer