Friday, December 30, 2016

All Roads Have Rocks

By the time our children start school, we’ve already had to choose a side a dozen times.  For every choice my family makes I can find a camp ready to fight to the death that it is not only a good choice, but the only choice I can make if I love my child.  And I completely get it.  The surge you feel when you hear foolish arguments being made to justify an easy road.  Or the switch that flips inside when you are made to feel so very small for a choice you wrestled with and prayed over.  On any given day we all desperately want to be reassured that we’re doing a good job and making the right choices for our family.  It is in the heat of these encounters that all of us have made claims that logically just cannot be, but we’re so upset that the need to defend a position is too difficult to resist.  We start using words like always and never to villainize everyone who disagrees. 

I love homeschooling and if asked would probably suggest you choose it for your family.  I believe it facilitates so many good things in a child’s education and growth as a person.  There are some impressive success stories of homeschooled kids growing up to change the world.  However, if I or anyone else ever suggests that homeschooling is easy, fixes everything and eliminates all problems associated with the educating and raising of children, know that it is simply not true.  Public school by its very nature facilitates some great things for children – automatic structure, peer motivation, and great networking opportunities for college and careers.  Public school graduates students – myself included – all the time who enter adulthood with the skills they need to succeed and bring good to the world.  But again, if anyone tries to convince you that the public school has the ability to stamp out every struggle and can fill every child’s needs perfectly all the time, they are deceived as well.  Either vehicle we choose will hit rocks and holes in the road.   




Take any other opposing views and the scenario will be the same.  One side solves certain problems while creating others.  Being married has wonderful elements like companionship and security, but the struggles of living in harmony with another person are very real.  Yet, being single eliminates that struggle while creating the burden of isolation.  Moving out to the country gives you fresher air and better views, but you usually have to drive quite a bit to run errands.  There are always trade-offs and sacrifices.  The next time some heated debate lands in your lap, try to remember this:  Most of our choices are less about finding a clear path to our goal, but the path with the rocks we’re most comfortable working around.  While a lot of times there are real issues that need to be faced, don’t deceive yourself into thinking that either side is a slam dunk.  Successful results come from hard work, commitment and sacrifice -  not simply picking the right side of an issue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We're Having A...

With both of my other kids we didn't know the gender and were completely surprised!  This time around since we were doing an ultrasound anyway, we decided to find out.  My awesome sister-in-law orchestrated an adorable gender reveal for us amidst ridiculously cold weather and very busy schedules!  It was a very fun time and we discovered that we're having a...






BOY!
Now you are probably thinking to yourself, how far along is she (because I look plenty big)?  I am not due until April!!  I am measuring ahead and my babies are always big but also this pregnancy is so different than my other two, especially where I'm carrying.  With J and miss Z the weight gain was very broad across my body.  This kid is all belly and makes me look ready to pop!  Whatever the case, we're very excited and grateful for a healthy report.  :)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gifts Ideas to Encourage Bible Study

One of the things I really appreciate and value is intentional living.  We try to carry that out in our lives but it can be really hard.  As you probably know, intentions can only go so far anyway and real life is complicated at best.  So, when I find things to place in my family's life that will encourage mindful living, you know I'm going to share it with you!  For those that put their trust in God, spiritual growth happens the most when Bible study is a part of their life.  If you're searching for some great gifts that will bring enjoyment AND encourage Bible study, you're in the right place!




1) Grapevine Studies combines 100% Bible (no commentary) with illustrating that is great for all ages!  While scripture is being read, students are encouraged to draw pictures.  It comes in digital formats and physical books with traceable versions for younger kids and blank versions for every wanting to illustrate their own version.  With each book their is an accompanying Teacher's Manual that provides great teaching points and the suggested stick figure illustrations.  Old Testament, New Testament, Individual Character Studies, Bundles, and a Bible Calendar are just a few of the categories you can shop for.



2) Apologia is a powerhouse in the Christian homeschooling world producing very high quality curriculum, but for this article I want to focus on a few of their books that are great for faith building, no matter your educational circumstance.  The study of Christian apologetics (reasoned arguments and justification) is fascinating, but sometimes difficult to introduce to children.  The Young Defender Series is a great starting off point that is designed to introduce children to fundamental questions of faith.  As these questions get solid answers in our family's minds, exploring what the Bible says becomes even more of an adventure!

Does God exist?
Did God create life?
Is Jesus Alive?
Can we know right and wrong?




3. Scripture Coloring Journals are just another way to incorporate the Bible with creative outlets - both in coloring and in journaling. My mind retains so much more and much better quality information when it is free to create and wander.  I have found some great ones at places like Sam's or Hobby Lobby.  Here is a really cute one from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hoping for Life

“Where there’s life, there’s hope.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
In my house are several houseplants and Ivy is one of the easiest and most proliferating plants to maintain.  Every year or so I’ll collect my plants to pull off dead leaves, repot some that have grown too large and try to beautify others.  Before we moved I had pulled off a green vine with no leaves from a larger plant and planted it in hopes of reviving it and growing leaves.   The pot I used had deep significance to me because a sweet cousin of mine had given it to me when my son was born.  Because of that significance, I was hoping to will the plant to thrive.  Of course, there is no guarantee that the plant would make it because I had failed before, but more often than not, it turns out beautifully.
This transplant happened a year ago from this writing.  For over 11 months, I watered that little vine – which was pretty ugly as ivy vines go because it had no leaves – with little to no changes that I could see.  Month after month, I kept watering it with a glimmer of hope just because I wanted it to survive so badly.  We moved and for a while it was in the kids’ bathroom and then I moved it to mine because there was an abundance of sunshine there.  Up until that point, nothing changed or suggested that it was even alive, except the vine was still moderately green.  No leaves, no sprouts, nothing.  In June, with no significant event crowning the moment, a little perfect leave sprouted on the vine.  2 months later, today there are several gorgeous leaves!  It’s the little things, I know, but this illustrates such a beautiful thought about life and our children.

Our children are originally connected to a womb that facilitates everything they need to grow and develop.  When they are born and throughout our time with them we are doing the work of transplanting them into their own pot so to speak where we pray they will thrive.  But there are always times – sometimes years – in their lives where there is no visible fruit.   There is just enough life to keep us from giving up, but it still might seem futile.  “That will never happen.”  Too many times we make up our minds about the possibility of something.  Learning a skill, mending a relationship or even making a life right with God – never underestimate the beauty of the human spirit and the power of God.  Many things might be unlikely, but never quit working, hoping or praying for those important things we’d like to happen.

There may be difficulties and discouraging trials right now.  That in no way dictates the possibility of new life in the future!  Every time I walk by the edge of my bathroom window and see that flourishing plant, I well up inside because it is just proof that with God and His tools and His time frame, all can be made new again.
This content was originally published at  Homeschooling with HeartThe Old Schoolhouse Blog.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review Crew Favorites for 2016

My new adventure in the Review Crew is hitting a milestone and my first year is coming to a close.  To mark the occasion, I'm sharing with you a few of my favorite products I've gotten to review this year!

Grapevine Studies

Grapevine Studies is fun and interactive way for kids (and adults too!) to study the Bible.  It encourages drawing and illustrating what the verses are teaching, whether through tracing, teacher demonstration or of their own creation.  I loved this method because it engages multiple senses, sticks to only what the Bible says, and (as for the online version) is reusable!



Zeezok Publishing provided a wonderful elementary music appreciation program for us to review!  What I loved about this program was the storybook form much of the information came in as well as the endless activities available.  Depending on the age of the students, this program adapted beautifully to their needs and always diving deep into the music world!


Essential Skills Advantage's Complete Home Learning Suite is a great resource to have in homeschooling!  It includes Reading, Spelling, Language & Grammar, Math, Science, & Geography for grades K-6.  This could be a stand alone program for any of these subjects or - what we did - use it as a supplement for days or subjects that didn't get the attention needed.




Foreign Language for Kids by Kids is exactly what it sounds like!  We used the Beginning Spanish program this summer and my kids STILL ask to watch the videos and walk around talking in Spanish.  We LOVED this one!



MyFreezEasy won my favorite non-educational product!  This is an easy, cheap meal planning program that is perfect for busy households.  Take an afternoon for food prep and then you've stocked your freezer with easy meals!

These are just a few of our favorites! Click the link below and find out all the Crew's favorites!
Meet the Homeschool Review Crew Curriculum Favourites for 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

Marriage and the Tower of Babel

Marriage can be so hard.  J was recently studying the tower of Babel for school and it just reminded me so much of marriage some days.  Being in sync with your spouse is almost a magical feeling.  You're on the same page and headed in the same direction - such an enormous blessing for everyone involved, especially the kiddos.  But there are times when it is as if you've been struck like the people building the tower were and no matter what you try to communicate, it just seems to come out as gibberish to the other.  It can just be so hard.  Don't let that be discouraging if you hope to get married some day, but just make sure your expectations are realistic.  Even in your best hard reality flick, you don't see how much work has to go into every relationship that is worth its salt.  See those smiles down there?  They are real, but not long after the picture was taken the wind picked up and sand was flying everywhere.  I freaked out and thought he was crazy for wanting to stay any longer.  He LOVES adventure and I panic at new things.  Marriage can be really complicated.



Earlier this week, Mr. Butler and I found ourselves continuing to argue about things.  Arguments aren't unusual (we're polar opposites in so many ways) but not seeming to ever get resolved wasn't our norm.  After multiple attempts, the resolution was only achieved after realizing our entire issue was based on the different ways we were communicating things.  Don't you hate when that happens? :)  Sometimes we get into ruts where we just expect the person we're arguing with to be against us and not good-willed when really the language has gotten lost in translation somewhere.

It's December now and no matter who you are and what your life choices are, this will be one of your busiest and potentially most stressful months of the year.  Let's work on our language (and I'm not exactly talking about bad words) and bridging the gap between our frustrations and the appreciation we want others to feel.  It's easy to attack others for what we think they think about us, but simplifying our communication might just clear everything up and help us feel a whole lot better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Training the Body, Training the Soul

A guest post from Mr. Butler:

A Greek word "Arete" used in 2 Peter 1:5 "Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge..."gets translated as "virtue" or "moral excellence".  This word choice in English is rather watered-down.  In Greek society the word "Arete" spoke to the kind of mental/physical connection that went into the Greek training lifestyle.  The training they committed themselves to intertwined physical training (boxing, foot racing, wrestling, etc) with spirituality and mental training.  Training the body WAS training the soul.  Arete encompassed the idea of excellence in intellect and action with distinctly moral overtones.




What do you do when what you do is not what you want to do?  Chasing a dream that fulfills you, and ultimately landing it are sometimes mutually exclusive.  Try as you might it may never happen.  Some people follow heart, and get that dream only to find they've lost something in the process. Some are scared and never take a leap and beat themselves up for the rest of their lives.  Still others know what could fulfill, but make a conscious effort to subvert those feelings and that gratification for other reasons or they strive to achieve them on their own terms without the loss seen by our first example.



For me, going to the gym started out and continued for 10 years to be an endeavor solely striving for aesthetic gains.  Looking good is the major driver for most people's goals at any gym I've attended, but over the past couple of years though, my mentality has shifted from that mindset to one in which I'm trying to be the best form of myself I can be.  The nobility that is embodied in "arête" pushes the goals I set for myself now.  Looking good becomes the byproduct of being able to lift heavier weights and being more flexible and athletically conditioned.  Along with that physical training comes a goal to read more thoroughly and indoctrinate myself with a life where reading and study in many veins is the norm now.  I've made goals to read 20-30 books a year (about one every two weeks) which includes bible reading. Inevitably it isn't about the individual items I do, but rather about the mentality behind the undertaking.




This kind of training doesn't appeal to everyone and there are various reasoning's for it all.  Many times it comes down to the way we prioritize our lives and how consciously we say "yes" and "no" to the various minutiae that seep in if left unchecked.  For instance the simple act of turning off notifications on your phone or email can cause anxiety, but once done becomes a freeing realization that you were once slave to a ping. In the same way physical training doesn't have to be lifting heavy weights or wrestling; it can be a walk, a fast, a diet that is conscious.  The strenuousness of the exercise is not the main intent, but rather the mental overcoming of the body that can and will lead to spiritual growth.

So go back to the original question about how we chase dreams and what we do about those.  Following your heart and never taking the leap both have components of incomplete "Arete" to them.  For every example of someone who followed their dreams and succeeded there is someone who made trade-offs about what they have chosen to do: be it foregoing money or time with family or time for themselves.  For the person too scared to make a leap, it's the body dictating the mind and the dissonance that creates anxiety.  But in that last person who makes the conscious decision to abstain from gratification and not live with guilt, or obtain it without sacrificing other precious things that  we see the fulfillment of "Arete".

Polykleitos, the greek sculptor, said it like this, "Perfection comes about little by little through many numbers."


Consciously abstaining, or obtaining something in a slower time frame is so foreign in our society as to look strange. But in this abstaining or the slow-life, we find value.  When we make conscious decisions it's not easy, but we strengthen ourselves when we do and that strength radiates out in a way nothing else can accomplish.  Being able to tell yourself, "I will lift this weight" or "I won't eat that" or "I won't sacrifice time with my kids" allows us to do the same in other areas.  "I won't cheat" and "I won't lie" is easier when we've made the connection between our physical self and our emotional and spiritual self.  Doing so requires effort but this effort produces good.

Philippians 3:12-14 says it like this, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Adjusting Takes More Time Than We Think

They say that it takes a year to feel at home somewhere or to normalize from some loss or significant change. Even though in just over a month, we will have been in our new house a year, the change in weather has ushered in some unexpected contentment and closure to the chaos of it all.  For me, the singular familiarity of seeing our home from the street as the leaves are turning and dying has told my body I have been here before and that brings comfort and closure.


Sometimes in life there are traumatic events that chill us and change us forever.  Then there are simple, even positive changes that are only there to improve life but find a way to unbalance us just enough that everything else in life gets blamed for negative outcomes.  The former is largely a different conversation, but the latter may happen more than we realize.  I read something one time that said any change, regardless of positive or negative, resulted in stress in/on the body.  Outside looking in, we had a very good year - new house, promotions, pregnancy, 10th wedding anniversary and a few really neat opportunities.  All very good things.  Honestly, though, this year has been the most stressful year for all 6 (don't forget Grace & Liz) of us to date.  Hands down.  We've all taken (at least) some aspect of these changes really hard.  It's only taken us 11 months to get our bearings and start to truly enjoy these circumstances.


What this is teaching me is that, try as we might, sometimes we can't immediately fix or overcome this trouble or discomfort we find ourselves in.  Sometimes - some years - you have to just hold on tight, do the best you can, and trust that things will settle in eventually.  I don't know what you are battling today, but after you've done your best, take in a big breath of hope as you go to bed.  Hope of answers, hope of relief, hope of comfort somehow to make it all worth it.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Musical Fun with the Alphabet: A Critical Thinking Co. Review

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
As a lifelong student of music, I know that adding music to just about anything in education has the potential to increase its benefits.  It may feel silly sometimes to put data or information we need to remember to a child-like melody, but if you have tried it, you know it works!  We had the chance to play around with a fun combination of music and letter sounds learning which was perfect for my 3 year old!  She's very verbal and internalizes songs overnight it seems.   The Letter Sounds Song and Game 2-PCs Win Download from The Critical Thinking Co. has done a great job of increasing her understanding of the alphabet while having some great fun too.
Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

The Letter Sounds song goes something like this:

"A is the ah in apple.  B is the buh in bat.  C is the cuh in candy, in cookies and in cat."

The melody is simple, but catchy, as it repeats throughout the song.  For someone who internalizes the words she hears, putting words to music is perfect for miss Z's learning style.  There are 7 different games that come with the software download that challenge a child's letter sound knowledge in various ways.  The first game begins with just testing the memorization of the song, but then the games progress to sound association and letter identification.  The entire program involves the visual and auditory senses, while the games have the added tactile response through a mouse or hand.  As we all know, the more senses we employ in learning a skill, the better our brains respond, especially when music is involved! 

As the description states, this is geared towards preparation for preschool level children and designed to prepare for Kindergarten.  J who is almost 6 and reading just fine enjoyed it right along his sister.  He sang the song on his own pretty quick and was a great help to miss Z on the games when she might not be ready for some of them quite yet.  It wasn't something he particularly needed educationally, but it engaged him and provided a good relationship building opportunity for them.  While we aren't currently suffering from any atypical learning struggles, I believe this program (and the others I mention below) would be a super fun and effective way to smooth those out.  A struggling reader could blossom with a break from their normal and a few fun and catchy games.

The Letter Sounds Song and Game that we used was a delightful addition to miss Z's activities.  While we only reviewed this one activity, it is actually part of an entire preschool bundle from Critical Thinking, Co.  Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ includes 5 different apps/downloadable programs.  In addition to letter sounds, there are ones highlighting the alphabet, vowels, phonics, and arithmetic.  If they are as catchy and engaging as our letter sounds program, then it should be a great adventure into preschool. 

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Critical-Thinking-Co/46128092293 
Google+: https://plus.google.com/114500823774999703181 
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/source/criticalthinking.com/


Check out the other programs the Crew reviewed!
Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
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Friday, November 4, 2016

An Afternoon in the Garden

Did you know the Science Museum of Oklahoma has a lovely garden?  I'm sure I must have known a long time ago, but I had never been as an adult.  The other day we took the kids after miss Z's soccer game and had a lovely lunch in the garden.  It was a great day!







Cooking Up History: A Homeschool Legacy Review

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

One of the things I love about Mr. Butler, especially when I ask him to, he loves getting in the kitchen and cooking something up.  The kids have certainly taken their cue from him and are always asking to help with whatever we are making.  Their enthusiasm in the kitchen made selecting Homeschool Legacy's Cooking Up History with the Founding Presidents for review something I knew they would enjoy.  Especially considering how much this year's presidential election has turned into a circus, I enjoyed discussing the lives of some of our original leaders in this country for a change.

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

Homeschool Legacy and their Once-a-Week Unit and Micro-Studies were born of a homeschooling family's love and success with a unit study approach in learning that they now share with others in hopes of enhancing not only educational benefits but also long-term spiritual and family relationships.  We found the unit studies to do just that!  Each lesson provided opportunities for everyone, including my 3 year old, to participate and gain from, but also the chance work together as a family.  


As you can see, our unit covered cooking and some of the favorite dishes of our founding presidents.  These pictures are of George Washington's favorite, Cherry Pie.  Each week's lesson included a dish  to cook, along with some background into the foods traditionally enjoyed during their time in the White House.  In addition to the main event of cooking, there would be interesting facts about their lives, wives, and presidential significance, with varying links and activities to be included.  For example, when studying George Washington, we learned to draw his face with the help of an online video.  Thomas Jefferson's lesson included looking up several words that he had coined, while James Madison allowed for learning about the War of 1812.  One of the things I found to be missing might be a simplified schedule or list including all the possible activities.  The information ultimately comes in paragraph form, but it wouldn't take much for me to make my own list, so perhaps I'm a little spoiled! ;)


 With my son only being in 1st grade, of course there is some information lost on him, but that is the beauty of a unit approach.  Some things will stick, the memories will build stronger bonds, and as they get older the value they get from it will shift as well.  One of the appealing things about unit studies is how flexible they are.  These are intended for once a week, but you absolutely could stretch it out over a week or add in as much complementary work as you desired.  Any approach still produces benefits in the family and education.


Is your family involved in Boy Scouts of America or American Heritage Girls?  Turns out Homeschool Legacy's Once-a-Week Unit Studies is the only curriculum that helps earn badge requirements while doing schoolwork!  There are many different studies available including a timely one for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  With our politically correct society, our heritage sometimes gets pushed around a bit in the media.  Doing a study like the one below would help really solidify the history of Thanksgiving instead of letting the reactive media shape our understanding.

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

Social Media Links

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/hslegacy/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/homeschoollegac

Check out what other reviewers had to say:
Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Accountable2You: An Internet Accountability Program Review


Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}

Do you have children?  Does anyone in your house have a history of addiction - to anything?  Is there a history of even a hint of unfaithfulness in your marriage?  If any one of these even sort of applies, it would be wise to consider some kind of accountability program in your household.  The dangers of internet deception are real and the health of our family is worth every investment.  Last month we were given the chance to review Accountable2You, an internet accountability program for any or all devices you have that could be a great tool and resource for managing your family's relationships with the internet.

Right off the bat, a very versatile part of the program is the different plans they offer.  Individual, Family, Church & Groups, and Business plans are all available.  We have several homeschooling families that we attend with or know through our church family so we decided to try out the Group Plan.  If you have a group of people who have a similar goal or concern, this is a great way to tackle it with help and support from others.  One person manages the group of households, but that person does NOT have access to all the reports of each household.  No one has access to reports unless you make them an accountability partner.  
Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}

Just about any device or platform is supported, making it usable on everyone's internet access points.



As far as internet protection programs go, I'm fairly familiar with filtering type programs that will prevent inappropriate content from reaching your screen.  However, that is not what this program does.  Accountable2You is an accountability program which keeps record of all content that is obtained and this record is sent to the accountability partner(s).  This allows the user to act responsibly  knowing their actions are being recorded and the accountability partner to be aware if/when there is a problem to be addressed.


Favorite Features

In my group, we have families with different circumstances and children of different ages.  Since my children are still younger, getting their feedback has given me a good picture of how I will use this program in the future.

-Time Limits: You can set time limits or curfews on device usage.  If the time limit is exceeded, the accountability partner receives a notification.

-Key Word or Questionable Words.  Of course, there are standard levels of inappropriate words, but you can set any word to be notified about.  Want to know every time your address is entered somewhere?  Does your child have a friend you're concerned about? Is there a topic you want to know is being discussed?  Even something as simple as a time waster in the form of their favorite toy being searched for can be set to alert you.  

-Text Alerts. As soon as a time limit, questionable word or any specific crossing of a boundary occurs, the accountability can be alerted through a text message.  

-Report Frequency.  Each accountability partner receives regular reports of all activity.  You can choose to get this daily or weekly for each device.


In many cases, we are parents trying to effectively manage and protect our children from dangerous situations and this program has proved to be a great tool for that purpose.  The reality is, many people (not just men) are finding themselves drowning in an unhealthy online relationship or pornography addiction.  As uncomfortable or dysfunctional circumstances can get in these cases, this type of program could be your best friend for a while.  Whatever your needs, we highly recommend considering this program for your internet accountability needs!

Keep Up with Accountable2You on Social Media:
See what other families on other plans had to say about Accountable2You
Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}

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