Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Write First-Rate Persuasive Essays {A BetterRhetor Review}

My oldest child has no current plans to go to college, yet has decided he would like to start his high school studies early and to compete with a speech and debate team this year. Thus, when an opportunity to revieCollege-Ready Writing Essentials™ from BetterRhetor came up - even though my is several years "too young" for the program's target age, he said he would like to try it.

I agreed to support my son's desire, since we both figured that using BetterRhetor would help him gain skills for the long run while framing an essay that might double as the basis for his competitive platform speech this year.

I also hoped
 College-Ready Writing Essentials™ would offer my son structure, flexibility, and top-notch teaching as he gains more skills to put into his personal writing toolkit. For, while I could help him improve his writing prowess myself, he does not want me to do so.

My son has articulated that this year he would like to learn from the that books he reads, online programs, or "teachers besides Mom". So, I am trying to support that and BetterRhetor is helping me to do so.

What is 
College-Ready Writing Essentials™?

College-Ready Writing Essentials™ from BetterRhetor is a self-guided online resource with lifetime access that is targeted to high school juniors and seniors and recent high school grads, which can also be helpful for sophomores who would like to run through the program once now and, perhaps, again, as seniors.

The program, developed by William Bryant, PhD, is offered in the form of two paid packages: Full or Premium (with the main difference being that, with the Premium package Dr. Bryant, offers personal essay feedback).

Both packages take you through 25 lessons initially designed to be completed within five weeks. However, with lifetime access to the self-paced platform, families at home can follow the step-by-step instructions to develop a first-rate academic persuasive essay at whatever speed life and learning allow. This is good news for homeschool families like mine that have a child who is young for the program, but desires to try it or for those that have children with special needs or simply have a life that often takes turns which temporarily derail planned studies. (Yes, I am still referring to families like mine.)

With the lifetime access, 
College-Ready Writing Essentials™ certainly offers flexibility and sound teaching. These are true plusses of what BetterRhetor has to offer in my book!

My Son's Experience

As I said, my son is several years "young" for 
College-Ready Writing Essentials™, but wanted to give it a go. So, right from the start, we knew he'd take the course at a much slower pace.

He has been doing so, and this is what he has to say:

I saw this and was like 'Yes! more credits!?' (I want to finish high school early.)
For, of course, BetterRhetor gives you credits, but it also teaches you how to write persuasive essays. 
Though BetterRhetor is not the most exciting course, it does some things extremely well. 
For one, it does not assign you uninteresting topics to write about. Instead, it allows you to choose your own topics - an extremely helpful thing since I am in a speech and debate club. 
For another, it does not have you write out multi-paragraph essays for each lesson. Rather, you focus on developing one main essay using an easy step-by-step platform. 
Finally, it is concise. It does not use an extensive amount of adjectives to describe a simple and sometimes unnecessary point that no one can use or care about - which is what I sometimes do. Instead, it guides you directly, giving you something concrete to do with each lesson. 
I have worked on BetterRhetor consistently and, though I sometimes find myself drifting to other thoughts, I understand that BetterRhetor is a valuable tool toward helping my future. So, I draw my attention back and do the next thing. 
That means I need to read and watch the material...

Then, download the next assignment...

and complete it.

 This process is challenging for me, because I have an extremely short attention span, that probably, if it were put out on a table, would not even make a few inches, and each lesson takes at least 30 minutes. So, often, I stop a lesson midway and get back to it.

So, I warn you now that BetterRhetor is only for those ready to embark on a long and hard, but rewarding journey. For simple is not always easy.  
BetterRhetor is simple to use, but hard to finish. It teaches challenging skills and does it well 

As you can see, my son has struggled with stepping up to high school level with his focus and skills, but desires to do so and, thus, persists in his efforts. He has not had a easy time with BetterRhetor and is going through the program much more slowly than a typical student would, but we both agree that the program is a quality one and will be fruitful for him in the long-run as it tpresents
  • 25 step-by-step lessons
  • targeted exercises and worksheets
  • strategies, models, and examples of writing
  • links to helpful resources
  • a reference sheet of key terms and phrases
  • a discussion forum and interactive comments
  • a certificate of completion (to prove he's earned that credit he so wants!)

We both recommend the program to any high school level student that needs to level up with writing skills. (There is a 30-day money back guarantee.)

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Thirty-one Homeschool Review Crew families have had children working on writing using BetterRhetorRead about their experiences moving towards student success with college readiness and academic writing.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Celebrate the Nativity of Mary in Minutes

 When life keeps throwing you curve balls and balanced time management seems an unachievable goal...

When all you have is a corner of your kitchen table and a few minutes to put something together...

You might toss a blue table cloth over that corner of your table, take a pint of dairy-free vanilla "ice cream", put it on a plate with a bunch of blueberries, place a candle in it, and set a candle with the Blessed Virgin Mary behind it...

 Minutes later, you might call your crew to the kitchen...

... where you might sing "Happy Birthday" to Mama Mary...

... and, then, you might ask your children: What gift might you offer Mama Mary this week in honor of her birthday?

"I will be patient and try not to yell..." one of your children might pipe up.

"I will be good at stuff and help others be good, too." Another will smile and reach to dig in.

"I will build my muscles... to be strong and defend people... and pray a Hail Mary every day," a third child might share.

Finally, your husband, your children, and you might polish off the "cake" in mere minutes, and, then, you might smile, thinking:
Mama Mary... Immaculate Mary... dearest Queen of Heaven, you know how much of a struggle some days on earth can be. Yet, you also know what love and grace are available every day in abundance if we just remember to say "Yes" to God as you did. May we follow your lead.

Happy birthday, dear Mary.

Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Add Music Appreciation to Your Homeschool Day with Living Books {A Zeezok Review}

If you seek to add music appreciation to your homeschool feast and enjoy living books, cross-curricula connections, and open-and-go easeMusic Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades, from Zeezok Publishing is well worth looking into.

Our family was blessed to be introduced to Zeezoks elementary curriculum a few years ago, and, although, life and schooling took some turns and we never finished doing all the lessons in it formally, we have continually drawn on the living books, lapbook materials, CD's, and student book materials when studying different composers, time periods, musical periods, etc. - always finding the material top notch and helpful.

Learn about the Elementary Curriculum

In fac
Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades became a resource that has earned rather permanent housing on my typically ever-changing living room homeschool shelves and is one I consistently tell friends about.

Thus, I was thrilled when an opportunity to review 
Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades from Zeezok Publishing came up a number of weeks ago. In fact, I was so excited I changed my summer plans to make room for the review.

You see, I knew our summer would be busy, and that I still wanted to prioritize outdoor time and summer fun amidst the busyness, so I had been planning to keep our summer lessons to a bare minimum: a bit of math, a bit of writing, and some free reading with no other formal studies. But when the opportunity arose to review Zeezok's Middle Grades curriculum my intentions got tweaked.

I like Zeezok Music Appreciation materials so much that I did not want to miss out on receiving the 
Middle Grades curriculum and, so, Music Appreciation was added to our summer.

Luckily, the material in Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades is presented in such a way that it is just as easy to dip in and out of it, studying Music Appreciation in a relaxed sort of way as it is to go whole-hog with them.

So, for our summer studies, our approach was comfy and casual.  At one time, we would gather with one of the living books - beginning with the Chopin early years one - and have a cozy read aloud together.  At another, we would open the student book and read an excerpt...

answer some comprehension questions orally...

 browse things we'd dive deeper into or try later...

or have one of us actually sit with a pencil in hand to approach things more traditionally.

In doing so, we were able to begin to take advantage of all the wonderful learning Zeezok Publishing's Middle Grades curriculum has to offer in a somewhat organic to summer way.

And, let me tell you, the curriculum offers A LOT!

We received a wonderful stack of living books by Opal Wheeler, some softcover, some hardcover, and one e-book.  (I
f you order the package, you would get all physical books, though.

  • Fredric Chopin, Early
  • Frederic Chopin, Later Years
  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff
  • Adventures of Richard Wagner
  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray
  • The Young Brahms
  • The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky 
  • Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet
  • Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines

Each of these books was a different length, and all of them follow the same pattern of telling you about a composer's life with through an engaging narrative and rich vocabulary, with some black-and-white illustrations thrown in.

We also received a 300+-page softcover workbook with perforated, 3-hole punch pages that have QR Codes that take you to related music selections, videos and more online. The online additions are also accessible through a website for those like me that do not have a phone that can read QR codes.

The workbook is open-and-go is brings the living books collection from simply a charming stack of stories to read to a full on Music Appreciation curriculum.

There is a Scope and Sequence that easily shows you what you will be studying - including standards for Creating, Performing, and Responding.

There are weekly outlines of what you'll study, with activities that support national Music Appreciation standards conveniently starred so those that want to skip some things but be certain to key into standards can easily do so.

Then, there is everything else:

  • Comprehension Questions
  • Tidbits of Interest
  • Character Qualities
  • Vocabulary to Learn
  • Cues for Listening
  • Music Theory
  • Timelines
  • History, Geography, Etiquette, Life, Culture, and More (all connected to the composers studied)
  • Quizzes
  • Journaling Prompts
  • Lapbooking Cues (These point out where to tie in a Lapbook component that can be purchased separately go along with the Book 2 Collection. There is a composer Coloring Book available, too.)
  • Answer Keys

There are even recipes to try for those that want to.

Indeed, the curriculum is a complete one for Music Appreciation and also ties in to other areas of study, which is only fitting since music, in and of itself, is a part of the greater fabric of beauty, truth, and goodness that make up life!

It is just fantastic and I happily recommend it to anyone with middle school children, elementary school children who enjoy stories, and even high school students who wish to earn part of a music credit (with some small additions, I plan to offer this option to my son who is beginning his freshman year of studies.) It is "meaty" enough for deep, connected learning, organized enough for an older student to open-and-go with it, flexible enough for relaxed family learning for those who like to pick and choose portions, and delightful enough to enamor those like me who love living books and do not have a ton of musical knowledge to extend them without the help of a well-written student activity book like authors Elizabeth Tanner and Judy Wilcox created forMusic Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades from Zeezok Publishing 

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See what others thought.

Sixty Homeschool Review Crew families have been blessed to review and share about Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades from Zeezok Publishing. Read all the reviews.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Serving with the Saints: Make a Blessing Box for Saint Teresa of Calcutta's Feast Day

Got a box? Some art supplies? A friend in need?

Then, might I suggest that you and yours get together to make a blessing box for a friend or family in need as you observe St. Teresa of Calcutta's feast day on September 5?

We did this last year and it was a simple success. 

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To begin, I introduced St. Teresa's quote of 
 "I am in pencil in God's hand" and suggested we write loving messages and draw happy pictures for a friend in need and then fill a "box of blessings" with these messages and more.

The "more" can be anything you think the friend or family in need could use.

In our case, the recipient of our blessing box was a dear family whose youngest child, a baby, had unexpectedly undergone two heart su
rgeries within a month, rocking the entire family's world.

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The family asked for 
nothing but prayers and well wishes, which, of course, were offered by many. However, as St. Teresa of Calcutta's feast day neared and we thought about in our local circles might need some extra love and help, we all agreed that that family might be buoyed up practical helps along with the prayer power they were already receiving.

Thus, I put word out that anyone in our local homeschool community who would like to make or donate anything to a Blessing Box for them could get it to me right up until the date of our St. Teresa of Calcutta gathering, and, then, at the gathering, we'd put our Blessing Box together, which I would drop off to the family in need.

I encouraged people to offer whatever they could that might bless our friends and let the now they are loved and prayed for and passed along the following Blessing Box filler idea list

  • happy notes and pictures
  • spiritual bouquets
  • change for vending machines at the hospital
  • healthy,nourishing shelf-stable snacks and drinks
  • fruits and other nourishing, easy-to-pack-and-eat foods
  • gas gift cards
  • small baby toys
  • fun things for the older sibling to use at home or at the hospital to keep them busy and make them feel special, too - coloring books, not-too-messy-craft kits, books, etc.
  • healthy lunch items and afterschool snack items for for the older siblings to make Mom and Dad's lives a little easier
  • monetary donations
  • food gift cards and gift baskets (with information specific to the hospital policy on gift baskets, gift cards, food vouchers, etc.)
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People dropped items off at my home beforehand and others brought things to our gathering, where the children enjoyed decorating and filling the Blessing Box, which we later delivered to the family in need.

The children in that family dug into the box immediately and the Mom was touched and grateful. 

Our mission - to be pencils in God's hand writing messages of love by serving someone close to us in spiritual and practical ways - was met.  

Today, I pass this idea forward with a prayer that it might inspire you and your children to serve within your own community circle, blessing someone close to you.

May you and yours be blessed and bless others, too, as you reach out with simple service!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What Book Swept My Children Up in Adventure & Mystery? {A Britfield Review}

Britfield.  Ever heard of it? 

I had not until I was offered a chance to review Britfield & the Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart - the first book in a series of five adventure novels that transport readers into the action-packed and suspense-filled world of orphans Tom and Sarah.

I certainly am glad I know about the series now, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading it to two of my children, and my third child has been curled up with the book for the past several days. 

A 9-Year-Old Loves the Adventure

My youngest child quickly became enamored with Britfield & the Lost Crown and asked me to read it every night at bedtime. He had this to say about the books:
Britfield & the Lost Crown is about two orphans who escape from an evil orphanage and have to go through London, Canterbury, and other places in England in a hot air balloon to run away from a person named Gowerstone who is a detective that they think is going to send them back to the orphanage. 
Along the way, they meet a professor who helps them escape and travels with them. They also find an evil person who tries to kill them, because one of the orphans might the be the son of a Britfield, a person in the royal line.
The book was exciting! I liked the part where all the orphans went crazy before the escape. I also liked the chase.
I think people who are awesome should read the book because the book is cool. Kids from 9-12 and their parents would enjoy it. My mom did!

My son is correct. I did enjoy the book and was as curious about how it would develop as my children were while reading it to them.

A 12-Year-Old Liked Asking for "Just One Chapter"

The only thing I did not relish about Britfield & the Lost Crown was the length of its chapters. As a mom who reads aloud to her children, I often "cave" into "just one more chapter" even as bedtimes get late. I learned early on that I could not do that with Britfield & the Lost Crown because some chapters were over 30 pages long!

Luckily, though, the chapters have breaks in them that make good stopping points for tired moms whose children are begging for more and more and more...

Laughably, the chapters also can become a family joke when on a night when Mom is busy the children ask Dad to read, "just one chapter" and keep hi to his promise and, later, Dad comments on how the book was good, but the length of the chapters... (cue laughter!)

Chapter length, then, became both a fun joke as we happily read 
Britfield & the Lost Crown the sometimes a chapter at a time, sometimes more than a chapter at a time and sometimes, I admit - much to my 12-year-old's chagrin - only a portion of a chapter at a time.

She had this to say about the book:

In the beginning, Tom and Sarah are in a terrible orphanage that has child labor. They end up escaping and an intense chase begins as the orphans are tracked down by the most famous detective in Great Britain. 
The orphans find a hot air balloon - and Sarah is afraid of heights. 
They meet a professor that helps them on their journey, and Tom figures out that he might be of royal blood. The detective Gowerstone and queen's butler figure it out, too, and the queen's butler and his followers try to kill the orphans. 
The story gets exciting and my mom sometimes managed to read the 30+ page chapters in one sitting which I loved. (I also tricked my Dad into reading to us for a long time by saying, "Hey, Dad, will you read us a chapter?) 
Overall, I liked the story, because it was exciting, it made you have a strong dislike for the people who ran the orphanage and it had a twist. I won't tell you what that was.  You'll just have to find out about it on your own. It would be too much of a spoiler for me to tell you. 
I think this story is good for kids ages 6-13 and moms who read to their kids (because 30-page chapters can be overwhelming for some kids.) 
I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

A 13-Year-Old that Has a Hard Time Putting the Book Down

For our review, we were given a choice of a physical or digital copy of the book and also offered a free 83-page e-book study guide.  Since it has been summer time, and we are often out during the day and have our reading time at bedtime when I like screens off, we took the softcover option.

Good thing we did, because on a no-screens day for my oldest son, he picked the book up and has barely put it down since and is already.  (He did not want to listen to it as a bedtime story with his younger siblings, because he doesn't like to wait to hear the rest of a story when I pause reading until the next night, and he had not picked the book up previously as he was immersed in other things and was not sure he'd like the story.)

My oldest is already on page 306 of 383 pages after just a couple days! He had this to say about the book:

Although I am not yet finished with
Britfield & the Lost Crown, so far the tale of Tom and Sarah has been exhilarating. 
I have found the tale interesting. Although not as good as some other books I have read (Sci-fi and Fantasy are my favorites!), it is still interesting and well written.
It is interesting how all the people's lives are mixed in and how they play into the story, but the mystery is just - ugh! I don't really like mysteries. They make me scratch my head. I prefer when an author lets you know the mystery through one character, but does not tell the other characters, so you can scream at the other characters when they make stupid decisions.  This book does this somewhat, but mostly keeps me guessing, and I don't like to be left in the dark. 
Still, the book is well-written.

The plot is complex, which in the case of the story, makes sense. Basically, some kids tried to escape an orphanage called Weatherly, stole a poor guy's hot air balloon, and are now being chased by three different entities at once: the villainous Weatherly orphanage group, the British police force, and royal fanatics who want to kill anyone who has the last name of Britfield for some reason. It is exciting. Nobody has died yet.
The characters are not as developed as some characters I have seen, but are realistic, because they are not perfect, nor completely stupid, nor completely defenseless. They all have thought, emotions, and quirks. Patrick - an orphan from the beginning of the book- is my favorite character, because he is funny when he steals a car and is wise, but not obnoxious. 
The setting is real world.  As a fellow author, I know it is extremely hard to place a story in the real world, so I think the author wrote a fictional story in the real world well. He takes you all around Britain. 
I would suggest that people who have lots of time on their hands and don't want to sleep at night read this book, because the chapters start off short, but then become long and you want to keep reading to solve the mystery. It's killing me. I want to find out what happens. 
I think children and adults would like this book, but mostly 10+.

I just love that my son, who lately prefers to read only Sci-Fi and Fantasy books and has not cared for Mysteries for a few years has been enjoying Britfield & the Lost Crown. He can get rigid in his thinking and choices, so it is wonderful to see him broadening his fiction reading again.

A Study Guide Could Make Britfield a Comprehensive Unit Study

Although I chose to use 
Britfield & the Lost Crown as a fun read and for gentle, natural learning (as in getting a flavor of Britain, reading a well-told tale, chatting about virtues and vocabulary as conversations flowed, etc.), I could have easily turned the experience into a full unit study with the free 83-page e-book study guide that is available.

The study guide has a synopsis and some information about the author.

Then, it is broken down by chapters, with chapters 1 and 2, together, 3 and 4 together, 5 and 6 together, and then 7-17 as sand alones.

Each section of the guide contains:

  • vocabulary from the story presented as multiple choice, matching, crossword puzzle, and fill-in-the-blank activities
  • comprehension questions related to the chapters of the book, which can be answered orally or in writing
  • a going deeper section that encourages you to think beyond the book and to discuss it orally or in wring
  • a learn more with technology section that invites you to look up information on topics given as a prompt and covers such topics as British Authors, locations in Britain, the British Monarchy, the history of orphanages, maps,etc.

At the end of the book, there is also an answer key for the vocabulary and comprehension questions.

A Wonderful Website

Not every book is paired with a great website, but 
Britfield & the Lost Crown sure is.  It contains information about places mentioned in the book, some beautiful photographs, and more.  It is truly worth a look!

Connect with Britfield & the Lost Crown on Social Media

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Seventy-five Homeschool Review Crew families had a chance to follow the adventures of orphans Tom and Sarah.  Read all the reviews!
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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Enjoy a St. Teresa of Calcutta Potluck-n-Play with Kids

Are you wondering how you might observe Saint Teresa of Calcutta's feast day on September 5th?

How about through a Potluck-n-Play time with with your children and some friends?

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We enjoyed one last year with friends and found it so easy, fun, and meaningful for St. Teresa of Calcutta's feast day.

What is a Potluck-n-Play?

In a nutshell, a Potluck-n-Play is a simple way to enjoy a feast day with friends. You simple pick a day, time, and location for celebrating...

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... ask everyone to bring a feast-related dish to share, leaving the details of the meal up to whatever the Holy Spirit inspires each family to bring...

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... decorate a feast table with some candles and images...

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...share some stories, prayers, or teaching about the day's saint... 

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...perhaps play a planned game, do a service craft, or introduce some planned activities....

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... then, dig in and enjoy the food before further fun, free play, and fellowship.

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Easy, peasy, and oh-so-blessed!

A Pleasing (and Simple!) Potluck-n-Play for St. Teresa of Calcutta's Feast Day

For our first St. Teresa of Calcutta Potluck-n-Play, everyone was asked to bring themselves and Indian-inspired dish, drink, or snack to share on our feast table.

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Upon arrival, children played, while some moms did last minute food prep or offered materials and decorations for our feast table, which I began to set up.


Then, we all gathered together and chatted about St. Teresa using a poem in Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times to get us started.

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We talked bit about the three stripes on Mother Teresa's sari (and our candles), how the Missionaries of Charity live their calling, and how we can model some of our choices after theirs.

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We also prayed 
Mother Teresa’s Nazareth Prayer for the Family as found on Catholic prayers Online.
Heavenly Father,
you have given us the model of life
in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Help us, O Loving Father,
to make our family another Nazareth
where love, peace and joy reign.
May it be deeply contemplative,
intensely Eucharistic,
revived with joy.

Help us to stay together in joy
and sorrow in family prayer.
Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our families,
especially in their distressing disguise.
May the Eucharistic heart of Jesus
make our hearts humble like his
and help us to carry out our family duties
in a holy way.

May we love one another
as God loves each one of us,
more and more each day,
and forgive each other’s faults
as you forgive our sins.

Help us, O Loving Father,
to take whatever you give
and give whatever you take with a big smile.

Immaculate Heart of Mary,
cause of our joy, pray for us.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Holy Guardian Angels,
be always with us,
guide and protect us.

We discussed briefly how we have our immediate family, but also "families" that extend beyond - our family of friends and neighbors - which we are called to love.

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Using parts of Living Faith Kids: Meet Mother Teresa we chatted a bit more about how St. Teresa went from living with her immediate family, to her family of religious sisters in another country, to her mission in India.  We also traced where St. Teresa of Calcutta was born, studied, and began her "call within a call" on a globe.

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Then, I challenged the children to think of ways they could be pencils in God's hands...

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...writing love letters to family and friends...

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... coloring inspiring sayings to give to others...

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...creating get well cards...
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... and decorating and filling a "blessing box" for friends.

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As I read a biography about St. Teresa of Calcutta from the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes, the children worked on this project.

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In fact, it was a joy to see how all of of the children were happy to help prepare this simple gift for a family we know whose little brother was in the hospital with a heart defect.

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They each took a part in decorating the box, filling it with messages and cards, or packing the easy eats, grab-n-go treats, coloring books, soothing teas, gift cards, and more that friends donated for it.

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After that, there was more play time as we finally laid out our potluck lunch feast and gathered to pray grace.

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Of course, the children were eager to taste test different dishes - including the delicious "tasters" from 
Amy's Indian frozen meals line.

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And, there was just so much yumminess!  

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Seriously! How can you go wrong with Indian-inspired eats!

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Thus, we all dug in, then, enjoyed more free time and fellowship together, all the while remembering St. Teresa of Calcutta's reminder to "do small things with great love."

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It was a truly lovely feast day celebration filled with faith, food, friends, and filling the blessing box. I pray that yours is as delight-filled.

More Ideas

For additional ideas for celebrating St. Teresa of Calcutta with children at home as a family or elsewhere, click on over:

More here.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.


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