Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”

We are total Drive Thru History® fans around here.  We discovered Dave Stotts and his awesome video series years ago, and we've watched them enthusiastically ever since.  The videos are informative, interesting, and funny, so we jumped quickly at the opportunity to review the newest series:   Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels."

And it definitely makes the grade.

Because this new series focuses on the gospels, we opted to make watching it the focus of our Family Home Evening on Sundays.

The timing of our review period was such that we were enjoying the lessons in the weeks leading to Easter.

How cool is that!?!

The series has 18 episodes, beginning with background information about Judea before Christ's birth, exploring the annunciation, His birth, His childhood, all kinds of aspects of His ministry, through His trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, finally ending with a summary of the prophecies and power of His ministry and thought-provoking questions to all of us as His followers (or potential followers).

Dave does it all in his awesome style.

As always, he spends some time talking about his ride:

But that doesn't detract from the overall message.  It's just for fun, to catch the attention of those who might otherwise think history videos are boring.

(Dave's videos are NOT boring!)

In every episode, just as the maps and history and archaeology and scripture get overwhelming, there's also some funny little side note that Dave spends a couple of minutes exploring--from exploring the football term "hail mary" to cooking BBQ on his car engine (my kids' favorite side road so far).  The subjects are always just a bit off the wall and always just right for catching the attention of any student whose attention might be wandering.

But really, who can stop looking and learning when the videos are full of such beautiful imagery as this:

and this:

and this:

Sometimes Dave lectures for a bit.  His lectures take place at fabulous historical sites, so that there's always something interesting to look at while he talks:

And sometimes, there are even live reenactments of historical scenes to bring the stories to life:

 My family was especially captivated by the wedding reenactment as we watched episode 7.

Dave uses maps sometimes to help the viewers get an overarching sense of what's going on where and with whom:

Sometimes when Dave is walking through an archaeological site or a city that still exists, the name of the place will appear on the screen as he lectures, reinforcing where he is and how the place is important:

And he quotes reliable historical sources, often putting the quotes on the screen one line at time while panning across views of the place to which the quotes apply:

The words move gently across the screen, and none of the readers in our household have had a hard time keeping up with reading and listening.

But by far my favorite part of this series has been how closely Dave has stuck to the Biblical account of Christ's life.  This series is not named "The Gospels" for nothing.  Every episode has included multiple references and quotes to the gospels themselves, and often the scriptures are put onto the screen in much the same manner as other historical references:

Learning can't get much better for a visual learner like me.  And the fact that all of the material is presented verbally along with gorgeous background music is an amazing gift to auditory learners.

I wondered how this series would present Christ--As a good guy?  As a great political/spiritual leader?  As the Son of God, Risen Lord, and Savior of Mankind?

I'm happy to report it is the latter.

And my kids asked, "Why are the pictures of Jesus being baptized all of Him being sprinkled with water?"  (We believe in baptism by immersion.)  We weren't bothered by the images, we simply used their question as a springboard for discussion and scripture study.

Included with the DVD set is a full-color (with seriously gorgeous images) study guide.  The studying part is minimal, but for every one of 18 episodes there is an interesting historical quote (would make good copy work), a summary of what the episode will be about, a set of 5 questions about the episode, Bible references for personal study, and a few paragraphs of information entitled "Side Road"--some facts and thoughts related to the episode.

(Note:  The study guide isn't durable.  It's part of the DVD case, and the binding broke in half the second time we opened it.  It's still usable, but it isn't something you can hand around the family for personal study.  It would be great if it were a separate booklet.)

Our family--all 12 kids ages 2-17 and Mom and Dad--gathered each week on Sunday afternoons to watch an episode.  First I'd read the summary to get the kids thinking a bit about what was to come, and then I'd read the questions to get us all further prepared to pay attention.  We'd settle into watching the show:

After the episode we'd share our favorite parts, answer the study questions, read the "Side Road,"  and I'd offer the older kids the opportunity to do the Bible reading.

It has been a great experience.

The littlest kids in our family aren't getting a whole lot from the videos because they are really directed to perhaps 5th grade and up, but even my 1st and 2nd graders are absorbing some information because of the imagery of the videos and the family conversation all around them.

Most of the study questions are kind of simple for my teens, but the videos are adding historical and geographical knowledge to the familiar Bible stories, and I'm hearing lots of exclamations from the teens as the videos help them put 2 and 2 together.

I'm thinking that this upcoming Christmas to Easter season, I'm going to count out weeks and plan to watch the series in such a way that we're watching episodes relating to Christ's birth at Christmas-time, following His life through the winter and early spring, and then His crucifixion and resurrection and the summary episode at Easter-time.

It would be such a marvelous link between the two holidays and keep Christ foremost in our thoughts through the darkest of the winter months.

For more reviews of Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” click here or on the banner below.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Week, Briefly (In Which Belle Saves a Bird)

 Without a doubt, the best part of Monday was our review of The Living Christ.

For whatever, reason, Pixie had the camera with us at the table, and she filmed for almost 15 straight minutes, capturing how the little boys just sang their hearts out and filled the rest of our hearts with joy.

Here's a video of the last not-quite-4-minutes of the singing:


The video quality is rather poor because I reduced the file size from jumbo-giantic to uploadable. :)

Little Princess has her back to the camera because she's mad at Pixie for filming when her hair is uncombed.

The computer is on its side because I tipped it over to point the speakers out toward the kids, so they could hear the music.

And, I don't know what else to explain  . . . other than the ugly, torn wallpaper that is on our wish list to remove . . . but it's pretty far down on the priority list.

Anyway, I think the light of the kids' spirits is too lovely to wast time fussing over the ugly wallpaper.

On Monday morning, we also put away our preschool story time and reinstated early morning walks/outdoor play.  It's pretty consistently just jacket weather first thing in the morning, so I shoo the littles out to revel in the rising sunshine and birdsong.

On Monday and Tuesday, I took them on walks around the block--or half of it.

Two year olds are terrible walkers. :)

We looked, listened, smelled, touched, and even tasted (honeysuckle blossoms are edible) as we wended our 20-minute way.

We had a disciplinary problem or two on Monday, as we worked on remembering how to be safe when walking along the street, so it wasn't all joy, but the joy outweighed the frustrations, and we reveled in identifying a cardinal song, watching squirrels at play, seeing "our" maple tree flower, feeling the dew seep into our shoes, inhaling the cool, sweet freshness of the morning, spotting nests in trees, and picking dandelions.

No wonder our singing was so full of joy!

We did what usual school we could in the morning, and then the older kids and I settled in for part 1 of our A Tale of Two Cities marathon, in preparation for their book club meeting on Friday afternoon.

In a quiet moment of listening, Lola loved on Theo.

On Tuesday, it was more of the same, minus the singing . . . and the disciplinary issues on our morning walk.

I hit the grocery store for snacks for the older girls, though, and we stayed up later than usual reading and munching (in order to stay awake).

A Tale of Two Cities is a wonderful, wonderful read, but it is Dickens, so it is dense!!

Rose Red's mermaid tail designs--they're a new passion.

How Baymax occupies himself while I read aloud--squirting my hair with water . . . and occasionally sliding a brush through it.

We celebrated our very first Breakfast at the Park on Wednesday morning.

This was the scene of the bird rescue.

As we ate and chatted, we noticed a bird fluttering around on the pond.

"Look!" we said, "That bird is taking a little bath on the pond!"

Then we watched and watched and watched and watched and watched . . .

and the bird's flutterings grew first more frantic, then slower . . .

"I don't think that bird is taking a bath.  I think it is drowning!"

Belle ran down to the pond to get a closer look.  Nature Angel followed close at her heels.

The bird was way out in the middle of the pond, but as the girls approached and called to it, it made its way over to the side!

Once it was within reach, Belle reached down and picked it right up.

It grasped her finger with it claws as the lifeline it was, kind of sighed a bird sigh, and settled down gratefully.

It just feels like a miracle.

We didn't know what kind of bird it was at the time, but we thought it was perhaps a fledgling that had failed in flight.  The spots on its feathers made it seem kind of young, and there were a couple of blackbirds fluttering around in a frustrated way on the opposite side of the pond.  Our bird's beak was a different color, so I had my doubts, but we decided it was worth a shot to take it around to the tree they were near and put it down underneath it to see what would happen.

We remembered from our experience with the baby robins a couple of years ago that birds have no sense of smell and will absolutely take back their young even if handled by humans.

A contingent of 4 kids headed around the pond while I kept the remaining 6 with me near our breakfast (Rose Red and Pixie missed out because it was late day for seminary).

It turned out that the bird was not a baby.  The kids reported that they watched it for a while, but the blackbirds never went near it.  After time, they decided to approach it again to see if it was hurt or if it would fly away.

It flew away.

They ran happily back to me to report that the bird was fine--able to fly independently--and it was time to play.

So we did.

Ladybug can tie her own shoes now!!

Poor Theo.  He did not climb that wall of his own volition. :)
We came home tired and happy. 

First we looked up what kind of bird we'd rescued.  It's a European Starling . . . the kind we've always called "dancing birds."  We love to watch them dance through the skies in massive flocks.

Then the littles settled into some at home outdoor play while the older girls and I read and read and read and read and read and read . . .

The littles got to have some water play it the afternoon.

But I didn't get a single picture of them.

Youth activities at the church gave us all a break from reading.  There's a church member of a nearby congregation that has loves escape rooms so much that he invented a bunch of gospel related, portable escape rooms.  He shared some of them free of charge with our youth, so they divided into teams and had such a good time figuring out the clues and "escaping."

Nature Angel was worried about her activities.  Her recent birthday moved her from the younger group to the older group of Activity Day girls, and she felt that she left her favorite friends behind.

However, her loving leaders, the kind older girls, and the fun skit night activity removed her fears, and she came joyfully home telling me all about how "awesome" skit night was.

Thursday was more of a challenge than a joy, but there are good moments worth remembering.

No walk for the littles.  Too many behavior problems on their part and poor hormone management on my part left us ragged and fractured.  We cleaned the garage instead--not joyfully.

What was joyful, though, was how Nature Angel and Pixie stepped in to soothe frustrated feelings and offer Christ-like help.

I am unendingly thankful for their examples.

And the clean garage is soothing to my spirit each time I walk through it.

Pixie had my phone in hand as we sang our opening song, so she captured a few seconds of Lola singing:


Seriously, I love singing with my kids.

I promised the littles that I would pack up their school and do it with them at dance practice so that I could keep reading to the older girls, so they happily headed out to the sunshine for some outdoor play.

I did pack up their stuff.

But then Lola cried to be carried out to the van, and in the hustle and bustle of getting out the door on time, I forgot the bag on the table. :(

Ladybug felt betrayed and showed it with first passive-aggressive behavior then a tantrum.

We got through it, and we had a reasonably peaceful evening with a pizza picnic on the deck and a ton more reading of A Tale of Two Cities.

(The reading did get so gruesome that we kicked Nature Angel and Little Princess out of the room to go read sweeter bedtime stories with Sir Walter Scott who was [thankfully] home earlier than usual that night.  They left gratefully.)

It is now Friday morning.

We have 19% of A Tale of Two Cities to finish before 2:30 pm today.

We can do it!

 Next week, we return to our regular homeschool schedule.

I hope. :)

(linking here)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: SpeedyPrep

College is very expensive.  Getting college credit from home is a much better deal.  That's why we were so excited to have the opportunity to use SpeedyPrep.

Our family learned about CLEP exams last year when a friend took his first one, passed it, and received 6 credits for Analyzing and Interpreting Literature at the university he plans to attend next year.

We were stunned!

We asked every question we could about CLEP exams, and decided that preparing for and taking CLEP exams would be a wise decision for most of the students in our family.

The question was--How do we prepare?

Enter SpeedyPrep.

SpeedyPrep is an online, subscription-based, drill program.

Each exam for which SpeedyPrep offers preparation is subdivided into focused subjects.  For example, Rose Red has been working on American Literature.  Preparation for this course is divided into 18 study sections.  Each section includes "flashcards."  The flashcards are questions typical of those found on the CLEP exam that the student answers.  Through repetition and instant feedback, the student learns and retains information. 

The first time a question appears, it is in fill-in-the-blank form:

The student fills in the blank as best as possible.

The student receives immediate feedback about the answer given.  Whether the answer is correct or incorrect, explanatory material is offered for the student to study and memorize.

The question pool is static.  As the student opens the same section for study, the same questions will be offered.  However, after a student gets the initial fill-in-the-blank question correct, the questions change to multiple choice (at least that's the best pattern we could understand from our experience):

(This is my wrong answer that I got when I opened a study session for the purpose of this review.  Rose Red is not going to be very happy when she sees I've messed with her statistics!)

As I understand it, the reasoning behind the fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice offerings is that students have to work harder to fill in the blank correctly than they do to check A, B, or C, but once they know an answer, they can simply check a box to work more quickly through the "flashcards."

Sometimes there is a video to watch that shares more information with the student.

Rose Red says the videos have been very helpful.

As students get answers correct, a "progress bar" is filled:

This is Rose Red's progress bar for American Literature.  We thought the wonderful years we've spent reading and enjoying American Lit would be good preparation for the exam.

We were wrong!

It has taken Rose Red quite a bit of time to reach her 90% status in that first section, and now she's just barely started studying the second section.

SpeedyPrep guarantees that when a student reaches 90-100% mastery on the progress bar, the student is capable of passing that part of the exam.  

In addition, I (as parent/teacher) can check to see how faithfully she's studied by this page that shows the date, time, and percent correct for each study session she's opened.

I highly recommend spending a good amount of time viewing SpeedyPrep's website (including the FAQ) and getting to know what they offer and what prerequisite recommendations are made.  I thought I'd done a reasonable job researching, but I found out after the fact that I'd barely scratched the surface.

How did I find this out?

By asking Rose Red to open study sessions for subjects for which she was not prepared. 

In my head was the idea that as she's already taken 1 semester of college Spanish, she could do CLEP preparation for review and some challenge work.  Imagine our surprise when she opened one of the listening exercises and heard a rapid-fire Spanish lecture!

When I did even a modicum of investigating, I found that the CLEP exam tests materials that college students are expected to have mastered after 2-4 semesters of study!


I also never bothered to look up what was covered in College Mathematics (I never took it because I took AP Calculus in high school and majored in English), so I thought that Rose Red, who struggles with math, could study via SpeedyPrep at home and test out of having to take College Mathematics someday. 

I was wrong.

She'll definitely need actual instruction in mathematics at a college level.

SpeedyPrep does not take the place of any actual course of study, nor does the company claim to do so.  The website encourages students to have taken and passed a high school level equivalent of any subject before enrolling in SpeedyPrep drills.

The benefit of SpeedyPrep is test preparation . . . and the saving of lots of time and money on college.

Rose Red is a poor test taker.  She can know material perfectly, and then not be able to demonstrate it on tests.  However, her experience with SpeedyPrep so far has been encouraging.  She's learning how to read and answer test questions, and the progress bar that registers correctly answered questions is filling her with confidence that she just might be able to take and pass an actual American Literature CLEP exam.

For more SpeedyPrep reviews, click here or on the banner below!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: Readers in Residence

Without a doubt, my favorite feature of Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) by Apologia Educational Ministries is the "Book Talk" section of each module.

From page 28 Readers in Residence Student Text

Every time Little Princess and I have opened a family discussion with the questions provided, the dinner-time conversations have become lively and interesting.

The kids have even asked, "How come [Little Princess] has such cool school?"

But first, some back story:

We were offered the opportunity to review the Readers in Residence Volume 1 full set.  That means we received both the massive (picture 2+ inches thick) all-in-one Student Text and Workbook and the Answer Key.

According to the FAQ, this reading comprehension program "is geared at students in 4th grade and up."

As my Nature Angel is a 4th grader, we naturally figured she'd be the lucky family member to enjoy this curriculum.

But she broke her arm just as it arrived.

Her right arm.

Her writing arm.

So, all school requiring writing was suddenly out of the question.

And, as Readers in Residence is chock full of pages requiring writing such as this . . .

 . . . and this . . .

 . . . we were kind of at a loss about what to do.

Until Little Princess picked up the book and looked through it and exclaimed, "I want to do this school!!!!"

Little Princess is a second grader who is an advanced reader.

We needed a family member to do this review.

We gave it a shot.

And it worked. :)

How it worked:

Readers in Residence Volume 1 is divided into 6 units.  Units 1, 3, and 5 are designed around specific high-quality children's literature--Sarah, Plain and Tall; Charlotte's Web; and Because of Winn-Dixie.  Units 2, 4, and 6 are called On Your Own units in which the student chooses a book of the same literary genre as the specific unit preceding (i.e.  Unit 1 is about the historical fiction novel Sarah, Plain, and Tall, so the student would choose a different historical fiction book for Unit 2--don't worry, there's a list of recommendations if you need it!) and applies the skills learned from the previous Unit.

Working 3-5 days each week, and totally enjoying the included lesson plan calendar, Little Princess and I almost finished Unit 1 over the course of our review period.

Each Unit is divided into modules, and each module is further divided into numbered sections for ease of making assignments.

Modules include direct instruction:


reading assignments;

written assignments (as seen above);

conversation starters (also seen above);

my second favorite feature--Sowing Seeds;

 vocabulary; grammar (minimal); drawing; book club meeting suggestions; and lots more!

No wonder this book is so huge!

Day-to-Day workings:

At first, Little Princess and I sat down together to work through the program as directed--essentially that I would show her which lessons to do, point out anything I thought she might need help with, and send her off to read and write on her own.

That would work with the 4th+ graders this program is designed for.  Had Nature Angel had use of her hand, she'd have really enjoyed reading and responding on her own.

But Little Princess, while a capable reader and thinker, is not ready to handle so much independent work.

We adjusted.

First we sat together to read the text, talk about what we'd learned, and then I'd help her write her answers down.

Eventually we shifted to almost completely oral work.  Now we just read and talk our way through the questions.  For the vocabulary sections, we do some talking and some dictionary/writing.  For the grammar sections, we do the writing together.  She narrates a lot of what she understands to me, and I record it.

It is joyful.

And, honestly, I'm so grateful that we did it this way!  Talking with my girl, sharing together the joys and wonders of reading and making human and spiritual connections has been so satisfying.  Had I sent her off to do the work independently, we'd have missed some of our precious shared moments, though we still would have connected over the Book Talk, Sowing Seeds, and Book Club assignments.

There are also some drawing/artistic assignments that Little Princess has enjoyed to varying degrees:

Sarah, Anna, and Caleb meeting for the first time.

A comic strip illustrating a challenging experience that led to new knowledge/behavior.
Each module also has a grading rubric with a point system.  I'm not much a fan of grading my kids' work, but we gave it a try for the first module, and it was useful for helping us both see where Little Princess is strong and where she could use some improvement.  For modules 2 and 3, we didn't bother with the rubric, but then we discovered this in the appendix:

It took about 3 seconds for Little Princess to decide that she wanted to go back and count points so that she could get her award when she finished the curriculum.

So we went back through and assessed how many points were reasonable. :)

The Answer Key:

At first I didn't use it.  We were talking about really basic reading skills and opinions, so I didn't feel a need for it.  But then some of the questions started to be specific, and I felt that we were kind of skimming the surface with our conversations, so I turned to the Answer Key for a bit of guidance.  Reading the suggested answers helped me to guide our conversations to deeper levels without having to do any extra preparation.

I've come to appreciate having the Answer Key as a resource.

The Book Club component:

One interesting part of Readers in Residence is the recommendation to start a book club for developing reading skills.  Honestly, with my kids already participating in a Cousins' Book Club (we have homeschooling cousins reasonably near by) and a Teen Classics Book Club, the last thing I wanted to do was start another club. 

I was fully prepared to skip this part altogether.  It really is not necessary.

But then I saw the pages of suggestions for how to have a book club meeting for Sarah, Plain and Tall, and I was hooked. 

It only took a second to text my sister and request that our next Cousins' Book Club be devoted to this sweet, profound book.

Our meeting is scheduled for a few weeks out, but I'll tell you that we're going to have homemade bread and butter and lemonade; we're going to plant wildflower gardens in cups, and we're going to have great conversations--all ideas courtesy of Readers in Residence.

And Little Princess will be tickled pink when she gets an extra 50 points for her Sleuth's Log.

In Conclusion:

I've never, ever felt that reading comprehension questions or guided reading programs were worth my time or money before.  Our family is a reading family.  And we naturally talk about books together.

However, as Little Princess and I have sat down to study how to be a good reader and to have specific, one-on-one conversations with guidance from Readers in Residence, we've had greater depth of conversation, communication, and understanding.

I'm sold.

Check out what other crew members have to say about Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) here or by clicking on the banner below.