Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Brain Blox Family Chess Set - 2019 - A Crew Review

We're all familiar with the game of chess, right? Even if we don't play it ourselves, we're at the very least aware of its existence. Most of us have likely heard of the genius chess player, Bobby Fischer. Chess seems to have the reputation of being an intelligent person's sport, and even a somewhat stuffy form of entertainment. Interestingly enough, this refined game of strategy seems to be breaking into more circles in increasing measure. Parents, teachers, and students are discovering the pleasure and benefits of learning this pastime. I recently read a book that described in fascinating detail, the benefits to a child's social and emotional health that can be realized by regularly playing chess. Thanks to my husband's influence, both of my daughters have learned to play, and enjoy a good game. Still, it was not my game, until Brain Blox provided our family with its Fun Family Chess set to use and review. Finally, I was going to have no excuse not to learn how to play.

Maybe you already were aware of the positive effects on the brain that playing chess provides, but you never learned how to play. If that describes you, then this Family Chess Set can be a great fit. It provides everything that you and your family need to learn the basics of the game. Included in the set are:
- Folding wooden chess board
- 32 wooden chess pieces, with soft pouch to store
- Full color chess book
- 2 reference cards
- Chess cube
- Instruction manual

This isn't your grandparents' chess set. Brain Blox has provided a few helps to make the game accessible and appealing to first timers. They provide colorful instructions with illustrations, all laid out in a whimsical style. Anyone who is learning to play will appreciate seeing exactly how to set up the board. Those that would like to see a more detailed visual can take advantage of the links provided in the manual, and see the set up in action. The reference cards are a thick, sturdy cardboard that detail the function of each chess piece, all handily (is that a word?) color coded. There are also a few extra tips on these cards that remind players of basic rules.

There are two options for playing. The first of course, is the standard, traditional way to play, and those that already have an understanding of chess can get right to it. The second way is for kids, novices, and anyone new who may want to enjoy a fun twist on chess. This option uses the included Chess Cube, which has one of six symbols printed on every side. To begin, the person on the Light Side goes first per traditional rules. That person will roll the cube, and match the colored symbol that comes up on the cube with the same color symbol on the Reference card. If you happen to roll a star, you can move any piece that you choose. It's a fun way to become familiar with the game.

My daughters, more specifically, my 14 year old, was pretty jazzed about receiving this set. Having learned the game along with my 15 year old some years back, she enjoys a good round, but our last, rather cheap set suffered some casualties through wear and tear. This set is sturdy, with a board that folds up and locks. Two soft pouches keep all of the pieces together inside. My girl wasn't sure about the addition of a Chess Cube, as she is a bit of a purist. After playing through a few times though, she agreed that it was a nice addition to the game. I think her favorite part though, was having the opportunity to teach me how to play.

As I'm in that middle aged stage of life, I freely admit that my brain is a little more foggy than years past, and I like the Cube and detailed instructions. This is a great chess set that our family has enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy for a long time. Whether you pick this up as a gift for a birthday, or for the holidays that will be here sooner than we think, this is a great set, and worth checking out.


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Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks - 2019 - A Crew Review

During the early childhood years, we often hear of the importance of play based learning. Somewhere around first grade or so, that train of thought seems to get lost in the pages of textbooks and tests. It's sad really. As I sit here and consider that reality, I'm thinking that the older a person gets, the more important it is to have some area of play. Who doesn't appreciate the delight that comes from engaging in some form of creative expression? If that creative outlet can also be educational, all the better! As it relates to homeschooling, it's fantastic to find a product or resource that spans a range of ages, and Brain Blox does that with their Brain Blox Wooden Planks set, which they graciously provided us to use and review.

There are several different sized sets available. We received the 200 wooden plank set. These are very nice planks. They come from premium New Zealand Pine, are chemical free, and made with renewable resources. A drawstring backpack comes with the set, and will come in handy for storage. That sure beats trying to get all of these wooden pieces to fit back into the box neatly when you're on the go!

What can you do with these blocks? They're just for preschoolers, right? Well, no. These are great for, as the box suggests, ages 4 to 104 years old. Your imagination is the only limit here. You can use these for STEM projects, Math, Physics, and Engineering. Or...use them during down periods, and see what your kids can come up with on their own. This is truly a product that the entire family will enjoy using. Toddlers can stack them up and knock them over. Preschoolers and slightly older grades can construct train tracks, buildings, and more. Teens will get even more intricate in their designs. Whatever the age, these are just fun and engaging.

Have you walked down the toy aisle in any given store recently? It seems like the majority of children's entertainment options are electronic in some way. They allow for passive play. As kids get older, many have smart phones, which again, provide a passive form of distraction. We need more options like Brain Blox Building Planks. Creativity will be sparked as kids engage in conversations, practice problem solving, and use their imagination. It should also be mentioned that these will exercise large and fine motor skills. The benefits go on and on! Let's get our families back to some old fashioned recreation!

My 14 year old has been the primary user of these entertaining blocks. She enjoys fiddling around with various building activities, and she has enjoyed putting together some projects with these. We've had enough school related assignments this Fall, so we kept this as a way to decompress and just relax. She likes to put something together as she's hanging out with my oldest daughter, or while we all relax on a cloudy day. These are simple, but versatile. Does that sound corny? Maybe, but it's still true. There's always something flashy being advertised for kids of all ages, but this is an option that will stand the test of time. With so many possibilities for use, it's a great resource that every family can use.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

So...this sums up my Sunday evening. Piles and piles of laundry. Well, that’s one less chore for tomorrow. How are you spending the last hours of the weekend?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Progeny Press - A Crew Review

A child's education wouldn't be complete without the study of literature. It's amazing to consider that something as simple as a story could have the ability to transport us to other lands and cultures from the  past, present, and future. There are plenty of choices when it comes to choosing a good literature curriculum. Personally, a company that adheres to solid Biblical principles always stands out to me when I find myself searching for curriculum. This latest review by Progeny Press is a great option. They provided us with a digital copy of the Shadow Spinner Study Guide for grades 5-8. 

Progeny Press offers a collection of study guides taught from a Biblical worldview. A quote on their site sums up their purpose:
"To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the Scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!"
Even so, I appreciate that while they come from a Christian perspective, they do not shy away from books that may include somewhat controversial behavior. While you won't find bad language or crude behavior in their studies, they won't avoid a story necessarily, but will take the opportunity to point out how Biblical principles can and should be applied to a situation. They would suggest, and I think common sense would dictate, that parents and teachers read over the books in order to familiarize themselves with the theme and language of any given book.

There are study guides for elementary, middle, and high school students. The books that accompany these studies are not included. A family that purchases a guide has permission to make copies for their own use only. I am of the old school variety, and I prefer a physical copy for our schoolwork, but for those who prefer the convenience, the pdf we received allows work to be filled in via computer. Each e-guide will take approximately 8-10 weeks to complete.

The guide begins with an overview of the book, and the main plot/theme. This will include background information relevant to the story that the reader may not be familiar with due to cultural or historical differences. The guide we received, Shadow Spinner, is a take off of Arabian Nights, and does have some crude parts to it. As such, there is a note to parents in the Background Information pages that caution parents to this fact so they can decide if they wish their student to read those parts.

Activities include using Scripture to compare and contrast.

Pre-reading activities are offered, and include looking at a map to locate the countries featured in the book, researching religious, social, and political customs of the time, and looking up current events of the Middle East. The lessons are divvied up into a few chapters at time, and include vocabulary words to define, comprehension questions, a word search, and Bible readings. This study may be used as a stand alone literature study, or as a supplement to other school work.

Vocabulary to define and match.

I mentioned that this study, Shadow Spinner, is designed for the middle grades. My daughters are both in high school, but I had a feeling that my 15 year old would still have an interest in this book, and I was correct. She loves a thrilling story with suspense, and this delivers. We opted to print the lessons out versus filling them in on the computer, as my girls also like an actual copy.

Comprehension questions.

I appreciate the Biblical principles that are woven in the lessons. The questions and Bible readings help my daughters to learn to view the events of this story through the eyes of Scripture, and that will help them do the same as they grow and learn to navigate their way through life. I also like that the difficult themes are not avoided simply because they don't always conform to a Christian view. Our kids need to learn how to deal with real life issues, and this doesn't pretend they don't exist in a Christian world. I am thankful that they do provide a warning to parents though, so if I haven't checked a story all the way, I can prepare myself.

As we make our way to the end of this study, I can say that I like Progeny Press very much, and recommend that any homeschool family see what they have available, and give one or more of their studies a try.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Home is the Best Place

I knew that I wanted to homeschool my daughters from the time they were barely toddlers. I had a great childhood, but as I made my way through elementary, and into high school, I had a horrible time. I was a good student, but my grades suffered in some subjects because I was more concerned about the kids bullying me, than I was about learning the school work.

My experiences, coupled with the growing popularity and acceptance of homeschooling, lead us to the decision to homeschool. My husband and I agreed that we wanted our kids to have the protection of our home environment while being educated. I am under no illusion that I can protect my girls from every harm, but I wanted them to be taught how to stand up for their principles while having a safe environment to focus on their studies.

I have no regrets over a decade into our homeschooling beginning. My daughters are doing well in their subjects, but more importantly, they have had the opportunity to figure out what they like and don't like, without the pressure to conform to the latest fads, and without the mean girls influence. In fact, my daughters marvel at the shallowness and the nasty behavior between most of the neighborhood kids. They see how the group think mentality has affected them, and they are grateful for the freedom they feel not to conform as we homeschool. I know that not all public schooled kids are like this, just as not all homeschooled kids are wonderful. Still, our overwhelming experience has been consistently like my above examples.

How has homeschooling been a benefit to your family?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Evening Mood

I think Crosby has the right idea. If we hide, maybe Monday won’t be able to see us. Hope you all have a great evening!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

HiGASFY Art History Video Series - A Crew Review

Before I had children and began homeschooling, I was a preschool teacher. My favorite activity to do with my students was always, hands down, art. I love art. The creative expression and even escape that the subject affords has always been what draws me. Of course, art is more than drawing, painting, and sculpting. We can't forget Art History. There is much to learn about the various periods, styles, and artists. But let's face it, the subject is often, well, boring. I've taken a few Art History courses that were snooze fests. It doesn't have to be that way though, and this review proves it. HiGasfy Art History Video Series provided us with a 3 month subscription to their HiGasfy Art History Video Series to use, and let me tell you, it isn't a boring college class.

What kind of a name is HiGasfy? That was certainly my first question, lol. It's actually an acronym. It stands for Have I Got A Story For You. The lessons are video based, and our host is Mrs. Beth, former flight attendant, and retired teacher. She has a little buddy named Gasfy (what a coincidence!), who is a little paint drop that joins us for the lessons. You'll notice of course that the name of this is HiGasfy, and she starts each episode by finding her little friend and saying, "Hi Gasfy!". Very cute.

This program for grades 1-8 teaches 4 periods in the world of art:
- Renaissance Series
- Baroque Series
- Impressionist Series
- Post-Impressionist Series

There are 12 video lessons for each of these periods. Each series follows the same general schedule. First, the video is watched, and lasts anywhere from 20-30 minutes. The art period is introduced, and students will learn about making a personal portfolio. They will study an artist, and his works. There are then  opportunities to create art for themselves. The last part of the series includes a power point presentation to assess completed skills. There are lesson plans for each series, and they are well organized and thorough. Even the most nervous Art History teacher will find their confidence using these plans, as everything is laid out clearly. Simply read and then carry out the instructions. Included in these plans are slide shows that feature famous works of art, flash cards, and worksheets. Students will enjoy activities that include I Spy (finding hidden objects in paintings), Word Searches, Vocabulary Words, and Crossword Puzzles. There are options for every learning style.

I liked the videos very much. Mrs. Beth has a great way about her that elementary students will appreciate. She engages the students with photos, graphics, and interaction with Gasfy the paint drop. I really love this program. I only have one complaint, and that is that my daughters are now in high school, and beyond the age range of this series. That won't stop us from enjoying the remainder of our subscription though, and we will! Those of you with kids in the elementary grades should definitely check this out. I bet you'll love it too!

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