Friday, November 30, 2012

Cursive Writing and Special Needs

There is a controversy these days about whether or not kids need to learn cursive writing.  For typical kids they claim that technology is making the method obsolete.  While that may be so, I think we are doing a huge disservice to our kids by not giving them skills that can and will help them in life.  For kids with special needs the concerns are different.  I remember reading early on that it was not necessary to teach it to children with DS who struggle with motor skill issues.  I had all these thoughts tucked away in my head not having decided yet what I would do for Gess.  Then over the summer I realized it was time to address it.

I generally use my debit card when shopping and every time I sign my receipt Gess wants to sign too.  She used to get really angry when I would not let her do it but we have a system now; I sign the store's copy and she signs mine.  It makes us both happy and she is learning how the paying process works.  It has been working great for a couple of years now.  Gess always writes her name on just about every receipt I get.  Then a few moths ago I noticed that Gess started scribbling instead of writing her name.  That kid recognized that I do not print my name, but instead write in what looks like scribbles to her!  So I began contemplating introducing her to cursive writing.  Hey, if that's what she wants, I am all for it!

Then we went to our yearly evaluation with the occupational therapist at the Down Syndrome Clinic and she actually recommended it for children who have motor skill problems.  I never thought about cursive being easier than printing, but it actually is. When you print you have to start and stop and lift the pencil many times and that really makes it difficult for some kids.  When you write in cursive you only lift your pen for every new word (except for dotting and crossing various letters of course).  She said many kids with DS have great success and write much neater that way. I decided we would give it a try and so we started cursive writing.

The therapist recommended Handwriting Without Tears which was perfect because that's the program we used to learn printing anyway!  Gess is really loving it.  Now when she signs her name she is back to printing her name BUT she writes the "g" in cursive.  She actually told me that today when she signed her name.  So far she only knows c,a, d and g.  It's so cute and she is proud.  She really seems thrilled to be writing that way.  I am so proud of her!

So do not discount the value of cursive writing.  It might just make it easier for your kid and help them enjoy writing! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reading Program Offers Great Holiday Discount

Do you remember my recent review of Samson's Classroom?  Well I have an update and a very special offer from them I just had to share with you all! 

First of all, one of my concerns was about how their game Spelling Scramble was hard to navigate. I just wanted you to know that they have fixed it!  Gess can now play and actually beat the tarantula and therefore enjoys the game a whole lot more.

It's not always easy to find an educational game that kids like and Gess certainly enjoys this one.  It's also very  rare to find one that listens to customer feed back and they have done that here so I wanted you to know that.

The other thing I wanted to share with you was a very special offer they are hosting through the holidays.  It's one you can't help but take them up on!  (If I was not already subscribed I would do this in a heartbeat.)

Between now and December 24, visit and enter the promo code AMAZON12 to purchase a one-year subscription at $15 off (a 50 percent discount on the single-user plan) AND get a $10 gift certificate to accompany the subscription!

Samson's Classroom focuses on Sight Words, Spelling and Reading. 

Your kids will love the earning their black belts in spelling and you will know that they are getting some great educational fun at very little cost to you. I was under no obligation to share this with you nor do I get anything if you respond.  It's just that Gess really enjoys Samson's Classroom and I really think it's a great deal so I wanted to tell you about it. I hope you have the chance to take advantage of the offer if you want it! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Season of Giving

Yesterday was Black Friday and Gess noticed that "name" for the first time, so we had our first lesson in what that day is all about: finding a good sale for Christmas presents.  While finding a good bargain is not a bad thing, I also reminded Gess that around the holidays we need to remember to stay focused on the spirit of the holiday.  If we want to show real "thanks" the day after Thanksgiving, we should give of our surplus to those in need instead of trying to get more "stuff" for ourselves.  Of course I didn't stop her from buying a game she wanted that was on sale, and I picked up a small item or two myself, but we did so with a thankful heart while avoiding the frenzy of the crowds.

Our favorite Christmas project is Operation Christmas Child where you pack a shoe box full of gifts and send it to needy kids around the globe.  They even have a method where you can pay online and find out where your box lands.  The last 2 years ours ended up in Mexico.  I am assuming the Wichita packing center will probably ship that direction most of the time, but we keep tracking and will find out either way.  What's neat about this project is that it starts in October and ends in mid November because they need time to get the packages there by Christmas so it really gives an early start to making Christmas about sharing with others.  Here is Gess packing her two boxes.  We usually try to do 2 each year, one boy and one girl her age.  This year we packed for two boys because we found a really good deal on some nice shirts for them.

Now Gess has some things she wants for Christmas and there is nothing wrong with getting presents, but I do think here in America we can scale down and make it less commercial.  I shared the Advent Conspiracy video last year but this one is updated and has a different focus.   Instead of raising awareness about water it reminds us that there are people in need of freedom.  Do you know there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history?  What an outrage!  The International Justice Mission is an organization that actually works to free slaves and give those who become free the after care they need.  You might recall that I wrote about a book they published called The Just Church which talks about ways the church can get involved in justice ministries.  Here is a video to get you thinking about some great ways to make Christmas more about giving to others and less about stuff.  I think it's pretty powerful.

[AC] Promo 2012 - International Justice Mission from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

The International Justice Mission is a great way to help bring freedom to those in bondage.  As I mentioned last year there are also some great ministries that bring freedom to women and then teach them trades so they can earn a living.  Purchasing products from them is a great way to both give to loved ones and help those in need.  Our church hosted a party by Rahab's Rope last year.  They have some beautiful jewelry and craft items made by women in India.

There are many good organizations out there to give to, the important thing is that we remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Gess seems to be learning that lesson and for that I am thankful.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Growing Up Wild

One thing you might not know about me is that I am the missions director for our ladies group at my church.  While I have never been on a mission trip, I am passionate about spreading the gospel and I work really hard to support missionaries and organizations that reach the lost around the globe.  As a mom I try to share that passion with my children.  I don't think there is anything more fun or satisfying then engaging in missions as a family.  While explaining what missionaries do is great, seeing what they do is a lot more fun, especially when it's from the perspective of a child.  Growing Up Wild is a DVD series (my latest Schoolhouse Review Crew product) that does just that.

In Growing Up Wild you follow the every day life of the Wild family children who live in Papau Indonesia with their parents who are missionaries there.  I reviewed Volume 1 and Volume 4.  Each video has 3 episodes that are about 15 minutes long that share some aspect of their life on the mission field.  While they are narrated by the parents, they are mostly about the children's role and experiences there.  It's targeted for children ages 5 to 12 but I think it can be beneficial for any age.

Growing Up Wild Volume 1 contains the episodes Home Sweet Hut, Supply Trip, and Sun and Water.  It's really interesting to see how life is different living in Indonesia.  It's fun to watch them build a home out of what nature has provided them.  Taking a tour of their Hut you see what its like to live there but it's also interesting to see how they meld their own culture into their home as well as adopt the culture around them.  The video really gives a new perspective on every day activities we take for granted, such as going to to the store and even turning on the faucet.

Growing Up Wild Volume 4 contains the episodes Amazing World Around Us, Adventures in Culture, and Tribal Calling.  This one emphasizes the differences in our worlds by first showing us some of the amazing wonders of creation that they get to see each day.  I really loved how  it emphasized that while the gospel is cross cultural and relevant to us all our cultures are often different.  It really helps you examine what in your life is influenced by culture and what is influenced by God's Word.  The Tribal Calling was my favorite because it really expressed why there were there serving as missionaries. I loved it so much I shared it with our children's group at church too.

Each DVD also comes with an Activity Guide that has suggested activities for each segment.  You can gain further insight into God and His creation, study our differences in culture, explore some science, express yourself through art, go on a field trip, or fill out some charts and graphs.  There are many activities suggested to begin to peek your interest and they recommend you do many more.

We really enjoyed each episode of the DVD.  The intro music is very "catchy" and Gess would perk up whenever she heard it.  I think making each segment 15 minutes long was about perfect. Gess remained fully engaged and really learned from them.  I also love that everything was viewed through the eyes of the children.  It not only made it easier for the children to relate to it, but it shows them that children are an important part of missions too.

This is a great video for Christian families that embrace the differences in cultures while spreading the gospel. The Wild family truly embraces the culture of the Wano people and even allow their children to get their noses pierced.  It wasn't that I minded that so much, but watching them have it done was sort of stressful, but it was also very real. Our cultures are truly different, but God loves us as people and calls us all to obey His Word, not change our culture.  There certainly is a difference!  Here's the trailer so you can see a glimpse of what is in store in the series.

On a personal note I just wish there were more episodes on one video.  I either think that each video should come with 6 episodes or cost 1/2 as much.  When it's just about the price of a feature length film I would expect at least an hour and a half of video even if it comes with activity guides.  Of course everyone views prices differently and while that may not matter to some people, it does affect my decision to make (or not make) any additional purchases.

We did thoroughly enjoy the videos and I do like having this resource available not only for my home but also for my church. To learn more about Growing Up Wild visit their website.

You can also see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received the Growing Up Wild DVD Volume 1 and Volume 4 for giving my honest opinion and assessment of them in my review.  
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Day Activities

With this being an election year Gess really learned a lot about our government.  We started back in January when I first began to choose my candidate, became active and eventually was able to be my caucus site speaker and representative.  I think my favorite part of the process was being there watching the official vote count as an observer.  I am not usually as active in politics as I was this year, but I felt that these were serious times that called for action.  I began to get Gess involved in a lot of that activity and preparation and even practiced my speech on her. We talked a lot about policy issues that we felt were important.  We also discussed both major parties and I explained to her how other parties are now trying to have a voice in the process as well.  I attempted to get Gess to watch some of the debates with me but she really dislikes the news and hearing people simply "talk" on TV so I watched those mostly by myself.

During that time I shared some resources we found on my blog post Learning about Politics and Government.  I think the best one was the - How to Become President Poster (which is free) because it allowed Gess to follow along as these events happened in real time.

 Gess remembers the day I caucused and when that was all over and we lost.  We then followed the conventions and the last 3 debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. By this time Gess was more interested in the process.  We made a breakthrough though.  After the Vice Presidential debate Gesserine's newsfeed Dogo News led her to a cute video where they songified it.  (They songified the others as well, but this was the most kid appropriate one.)  Gess loves this video and still watches it, in fact she was just watching it (and singing along) yesterday. The tune is very catchy.  After becoming fond of this she began to be more interested in the actual debates.  The next debate we watched she recognized it for what it was and she even sat down and watched part of it.

The final step in the process was the actual vote.  To teach Gess how this worked we enrolled her in the Kids Voting USA program where she actually got to vote at the polls on election day.  As homeschoolers you have to sort of seek this information out.  We are blessed with a Christian school connection that gets the information to us once it is shared with that school.  However you can check on the website to find the link to your state and hopefully contact someone that will get you the information you need to get involved.

Kids Voting USA makes you register ahead of time.  This isn't about voting for fun, it's about learning how the process works and in America you have to be registered ahead of the actual election.  So, we ran down to the office of the person heading it up and she had Gess sign her name.  She then gave her a map of our areas voting districts and showed her where her polling place was located on the map.

Then on election day she did like the rest of us (minus the voter ID), got in line, gave her name, received her ballot, entered her "booth" and cast her vote.  She was very excited.  I wanted to get a picture inside but I had left my phone in the car and my husband was actually casting his ballot so I have no photo.  However, daddy did take a picture of the two of us outside wearing our "I voted" and "Kids Voting" stickers.

I asked her who she voted for and she said she voted for Mitt Romney because "Barack Obama has bad policies."  One of those policies is on abortion.  When I explained what that was Gess yelled "ouch!"  Ouch indeed, and very sad.  Of course that wasn't the only policy she learned about.  Now that our votes were cast we hunkered down to watch the results coming in.  Here it was shortly before the election was called for Obama.  While we were watching it on the TV we had our laptop exploring the maps of the various states.  Here she is as we were keeping an eye on Ohio, Florida, and Virginia.

I tell you Gess has really struggled with being a good sport and when they announced Obama won she was not happy.  She kept saying, "no" and pointing to Romney's picture on the map.  I mean after all, that's who she voted for!  She got a lesson in losing but also in respect.  We then prayed for our president and our country and she calmed down and went to bed. However she was suffering from a cold and was up for quite awhile with a really bad cough. Thankfully that improved the next day!  I have my own personal 2012 Election Results Analysis and posted those thoughts on Facebook.  Read them if you choose.  We are now following up by learning about the electoral college process.

One thing I really tried to do during this election cycle is teach respect. I have many friends that are not conservative and I do love and respect them.  I tried to make sure all my political posts were positive and issues oriented.  I avoided personal attacks and really stressed to Gess that people had a right to vote for who they wanted to and that doing so didn't change anything about their intelligence, character or value. When we were at the polling place I also talked to her about the importance of privacy when you voted and the "no electioneering" policy.  You must never feel coerced or pressured to vote for someone you don't want to and should always respect the right of persons to disagree with you.  Of course she also learned that once the winner is announced they become the President of everyone and you should respect that.  So this four years I will do as I did the last four years and speak about Obama as our President in a positive way to her.  I will of course tell her when I do not like his policies and how they are affecting us, but whenever he speaks or does something I am sure to get her excited about the fact that he is our President!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Grace & Truth Books

My daughter Gess loves books and spends much of her free time reading.  She also enjoys it when we read together.  I have noticed in reading along with her that it really is hard to find quality books and very rare to find good christian ones.  Thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew I was able to learn about an excellent resource for christian books, Grace and Truth Books.

Grace and Truth Books specializes in books that not only call themselves "christian" on the outside but they must be full of christian principles and truths on the inside too.  Books offered at their website must "glorify God, strengthen His people in their walk, and call all peoples to find joy in knowing His gospel and following Him."  They have about every category of book you are looking for including theology, christian fiction, spiritual life, men's, women's, family, children, and so on.  The books I reviewed were from the Character Building Collection.

The Children's Character Building Collection has 11 volumes that come from some of the American Tract's Society's children's stories written in the 19th century.  They are recommended for ages 8 to 12 but have lessons that are enjoyable for any age.  The stories in these books are not merely about morals and character, but are "Christ centered" and actually use Scripture to build upon each principle.  I found them refreshing, enjoyable, endearing and inspiring. 

The first book we read was The Little Medicine Carrier which is about a young boy named George who goes to work for a doctor carrying medicine so that he can help his mother provide for their family.  George soon finds that while having the responsibility is a good thing, it comes with challenges and temptations that could cause him to sin.  As he faces these challenges with the guidance and counsel of some good christian role models George learns lessons in integrity, honesty and faithfulness.  Gess and I truly enjoyed the book and I loved its real integration of Scripture into the story.  I even had the opportunity to bring the story up when Gess found herself being tempted to be disobedient.  I reminded her of an incident that George faced and how he remembered that "it is never right to do wrong."  Gess chose to do the right thing too.  I am glad I had that lesson ready to share with her!

The next book was The Reward of Childhood Truth.  This book actually contains two stories in them, both based upon solid biblical principles shared in the immediate text of the story.  The first one was my favorite and I even shared it's opening as a quote on my Facebook page because I found it both amusing and profound.  Part 1 was the story for which the book was titled The Reward of Childhood Truth.

"Boys will be boys," said Mr. Arnold. "Very true, Sir." answered Mr. Benson. "At least they are not likely to be girls nor women. This doesn't mean, however, that boys must necessarily be thieves and liars."

I loved that! "Boys will be boys" is often used as an excuse to explain away bad behavior.  Indeed, "boys will be boys" but that does not mean they must act sinfully.  The story continued on that jovial note, making the characters very enjoyable.  You see Mr. Benson's two young boys had accidentally destroyed Mr. Arnold's prize plant.  Mr. Arnold expected them to lie about it but instead they were honest, just as their father had taught them.  As you follow them through the years you see just how greatly that one simple truth impacted their lives.

The second story was Little Mary's First and Last Falsehood.  It does an excellent job pointing out how telling one little lie can begin to steal the joy from all areas of your life.  Poor Mary suffers through so much to avoid telling the truth until she eventually is reminded what the Scriptures say about about it in church.

I truly loved each of these books and thought about how sad it is that you don't find books for youth today that really tackle problems through the clear and vivid lens of God's Word.  We seem to water everything down.  My pastor has talked about that at my church.  Today we look at things through a lens of  "good and bad" rather than "holy and evil."  If you think about it there is a very stark difference in the two.  These books blatantly call sin what it is - evil and Satan is pointed out as the tempter and deceiver behind it all.  When Mary finally confesses her lie she rightfully says she has been "wicked."  Whoa, you certainly don't hear kids talking like that today!  How sad. 

Technically I really liked how the print in these books was nice and large which made it easier for Gess to read them along with me.  She probably could have read them on their own but they are longer than books she normally reads so I didn't try to make her.  I do have to say that while cover art is really well done the graphics inside the book are unimpressive, but that didn't seem to take away from the enjoyment of it.  Also you must keep in mind that these were written in the 1800s so there are some things that really would not happen today, like the fact that some bullies get whipped with an actual whip by an adult that was not their parent.

You can purchase The Reward of Childhood Truth and The Little Medicine Carrier for $4.75 each or purchase the entire 11 volume set of The Character Building Collection books for $49.00.  As I mentioned, Grace and Truth Books has a large variety of books to choose from so check out their website to see what else they have to offer.  The Schoolhouse Review Crew were also given a variety of selections to review so you can see what other members of the Crew thought about these and the other selections by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received the books The Reward for Childhood Truth and The Little Medicine Carrier for giving my honest opinion and assessment of them in my review.  
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Journeys of Faithfulness

Apologia Educational Ministries has become one of my favorite homeschool resources so when they asked us to review a book specifically for young christian women I thought I would help them out by reading it.  Journeys of Faithfulness by Sarah Clarkson follows the faith of some great women in Scripture.  The book is recommended for ages 12 and up but after reading it I would recommend it for older ages, probably at least 14 or 15 unless the child is already saved and has a good grasp on their christian faith.  Of course my 11 year old daughter has special needs and maybe that is why I think it's a bit too deep for your average 12 year old.  I guess it would just depend on the child.

The book follows the lives Mary and Martha, Mary the mother of Jesus, Esther and Ruth and is written in a format as if telling their story.  I generally do not read books like this that take characters from Scripture and add too or make up what happened in between the pages of Scripture which is what this book did.  I do have to say however, that I think she did a really good job of developing the characters. While we don't know what their lives would have been like, she really used her imagination to develop what we do know from the Scripture and captivated me by placing emphasis on passages that I have never given much thought about before.  Having read the New Testament so many times it is easy to gloss over familiar passages and Sarah Clarkson did a good job at making them seem to come to life.

While the stories were well written and compelling this is not simply a novel.  The book is divided into 4 parts and each part has three chapters. Each segment of the story is followed by a devotional written by Sarah who shares how these lessons in Scripture have impacted her own life, which in itself is very compelling.  While many young women will be able to relate to her battle with loneliness not many of us have had the experiences of grappling with illness so often at such a young age.  At the end of each devotional are Biblical passages for you to read, reflect on and answer questions about.

Part one explores the life of Mary and Martha and gives you a glimpse into what their lives might have been like. Of course it expresses the differences of the two women but also really deals with what may have been behind that.  Reading her story helped me really feel the anguish these women must have felt when Lazarus died and the struggle they must have battled with their faith in Jesus who did not immediately come to his rescue. Then accepting the same principle in her own struggles and pain Sarah shares how she learned that "Jesus is not an impassive deity who zaps us with grief and watches our pain" but rather is a "Lord who has not only known my grief but bears it with me."

Part two is about Mary the mother of Jesus and I loved the human aspect of her.  How many times have we heard this story and not realized how difficult it was for Mary to bear the Son of God?  We picture her perfect, always happy and blissful yet Sarah reminds us of Simeon's prophetic statement that a sword would pierce Mary's soul too. Indeed her life was not all glory as we sometimes suppose it to be.  In the devotional Sarah explains that Mary wasn't chosen because she was perfect, none of us are. She was chosen because she was ready.  Sarah encourages us to be ready by becoming students of the Scripture as Mary must certainly have been.

Part three takes us back into the old testament and the compelling story of Esther.  Again we never really think of how hard it must have been for Esther.  While Mordecai tells her to keep her heritage a secret I had never thought of how hard that might have been in the midst of prejudice and persecution.  To be forced to remain quite was quite a difficult task.  Miss Clarkson then shares a time when she felt as if her own life was meaningless.  She has a point.  Working 9 to 5 doesn't really meet the idea picture of a woman sold out for God.  But through this passage she was reminded that; "Sometimes, loving God looks very different from what you think it will.  Sometimes, God asks you to live a life, or even a phase of life, that feels the opposite of everything you hoped or wanted....Yet God knows the plans he has for us.  God knows when a young girl is in training to be a queen."

Part four is about the life of Ruth a young widow taking care of her mother-in-law in difficult times.  Again it's another familiar story and yet the book brings out lessons that I had not pondered very often.  Naomi suffered tragedy and trial to the point where she wanted to change her name because she was bitter and yet the story has a happy ending.  But in between there was hard work and trails.  In the devotional Sarah explains, "For every brilliant moment in the life of a hero, there a thousand faithful minutes in which nothing exciting or noble happens at all.  There are countless days during which all the hero does is clean, work, and love in dull, daily rounds."  How very true indeed.

I found the book Journeys of Faithfulness to be an engaging read and an encouraging study.  As a christian woman I also share those longings to be that heroine out on the mission field or doing something "great" for the faith.  Yet instead I find myself mostly at home taking care of a daughter with special needs and doing all those mundane daily tasks that are required to care for a family.  This book was uplifting and encouraging. I think it will speak greatly to young christian women who are still in school dreaming of their future to be reminded early that there is hard work ahead.  A heroine is grown through faith and devotion to God that take time and years of dedication. As Sarah reminds us, it's not something we learn and have all worked out by the time we are 25.  It's a daily process we must live each and every day and as we go through those times we must be diligent to make time to find the beauty of God in life.  It's there, even if it's not as obvious as it should be.  It's our duty to be a student of the Word always looking for Him, as He is always faithful to be there.

Journeys of Faithfulness is available through Apologia for $13.00.  They also allow you to view a sample chapter and the table of contents there.  To learn more or see what other great resources they have to offer visit the Apologia website.

You can also see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about the book by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a copy of Journeys of Faithfulness for giving my honest opinion and assessment of it in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.


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