Saturday, October 25, 2014

Seeing the Civil War from a Different Point of View {A New Liberty Videos DVD Review}

When our family was offered a chance to review Warriors of Honor from New Liberty Videos, I was excited.  My entire family enjoys history; my boys, in particular, love anything "American war" right now; and, I appreciate when faith is woven into topics in the books, audios and videos we explore.

New Liberty Videos and Warrior of Honor

New Liberty Videos Review

Warriors of Honor was produced and directed by New Liberty Videos,' Brian Barklay.  Mr. Barklay has 40+ years in the motion picture business and has been producing Christian videos for the past 30 years.

The Warriors of Honor DVD is approximately 80 minutes long and features:

  • historical photographs and accounts about the lives and faith of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
  • photographs, accounts and re-enactments of the major battles of the Civil War.
  • a nine-minute "bonus" overview of slavery from a perspective different than that in many other resources.
  • a five-minute "bonus" about Sam Davis, the first soldier to be awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.
  • a seven-minute "bonus" about the Palmyra Incident, an event that occurred on October 18, 1862 during which ten Confederate prisoners of war were executed in retaliation for the abduction of a local Union supporter, Andrew Alsman.

Our Experience with the Warriors of Honor

New Liberty Videos Review

Despite the fact that I attempt to teach my children that there are "good guys" and "bad guys" on any side of a conflict and that if a person fought for the British in the Revolutionary War or the South in the Civil War that person was not automatically "bad", my oldest tends to reduce concepts, and, thus, until recently, felt Union soldier = "good", Confederate soldier = "bad".  

Considering my oldest child's view of Southern soldiers during the Civil War, and the monkey-see-monkey-do quality of his younger brother,  I decided to preempt potential protests about watching "a whole video about bad guys" by saving Warriors of Honor to watch with the kids "in the background" while we did something I knew they would enjoy doing.

As it turned out, that something became gutting pumpkins.

With a "Hey, guys, Mommy needs to watch this video for a review..." I set our laptop up at the end of or kitchen table and pumpkin gutting up at the other end.  As I expected would happen, before long, even though the children were enthused by pumpkin gutting, the video also began to engage them.

My boys balked a bit about the fact that the film was mainly about Southern generals and their faith, but soon found themselves engaged by the re-enactments of battles, the stories of honor, etc.  In fact, the boys liked the DVD so much that when we finished our pumpkin gutting fun, they asked if they could continue watching the rest of it.

After having the kids brush their teeth and change into jammies, we did just that.  We brought our laptop into the living room and finished the film off on the couch.

As we watched, my youngest ended up falling asleep, but my oldest remained wide awake and into the film, pausing it only for discussion about it.  My daughter was not as engaged, but watched portions of it and joined in our conversations. 

Overall, the children were taken in by the perspective of the film, which emphasized faith and seemed to sympathize with the South as it detailed the life stories of Stonewall and Lee.

At one point, my oldest commented with something akin to, "I know bad things happen in any war, Mommy, but that (Northern) man led really awful things."  Countering that, though, my oldest and his sister were happily surprised to hear that Northern soldiers protected the wife and child of a Southern general in Richmond.  

With each comment, question and discovery the children made, I found the video opened up opportunities to discuss the sadness of war, the honor of men, the choice we all have to follow virtue or vice and the impact of perspective and bias on how we view things.

The latter became especially apparent when we began to watch the bonus materials included on the DVD.

The portion on slavery surprised the children.  It presented a view of slavery that was far different from that they had previously become familiar through some books, videos and performances we had experienced last winter when studying Harriet Tubman.  This, of course, opened up questions and comments about points-of-view and bias when it comes to history.  Facts are facts and depending on which facts one looks at, different ideas and opinions can develop...

The next clip tied into that as we learned about a historical figure none one of us had hitherto heard of:  Sam Davis.  Who is remembered and why varies largely on perspective, it seems.  As an aside, my children were quite excited to discover similarities between Sam's last words and those of Nathan hale which they had heard quotes elsewhere.

Finally, we watched the clip on the Palmyra Incident, which was disturbing.  Luckily, my children, at their relatively tender ages, focused on how the soldiers who aimed at the prisoners to kill them purposefully aimed high.  Sp, we ended up talking about how when something is wrong, even if a leader tells you to do it, you can choose differently.

Thoughts in a Nutshell

We found Warriors of Honor engaging.  The narration, still images and footage of re-enchantments in it were well chosen and woven together as one might expect in a documentary produced by a 40 year veteran in the film industry.

The actual focus of the film was true to its title, but not as much to the DVD's description which reads, "This documentary guides the viewer through the causes and the major battles of the Civil War while providing insight into the lives of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson."  In truth, it seems that the film guides viewers through the lives and faith of the generals while providing a cotext within the Civil War and holding bias to the South.  It is more for those interested in biography, Southern sympathy and the way honor and faith play into leadership than about hardcore Civil War battle history.

That said, battles do play into the film, which is unrated and meant for general audiences.  So I might suggest that parents with young or sensitive children preview the DVD before watching it as a familyMy children have viewed other war-related things and have become familiar with a number of sad, "heavy" stories of martyrs and saints, so I felt comfortable having them watch Warriors of Honor with me.  However, due to the nature of its topic - war - the film, however tastefully produced, could be "too much" for other young children.

Learn More

  • Discover more about Christian documentaries by New Liberty Videos, which sell for $19.95 each with discounts when you purchase more than one video.

 Click to read Crew Reviews 

  • Browse one hundred New Liberty Videos reviews by Schoolhouse Review Crew members.  Each person chose one of the following Christina documentaries.

New Liberty Videos Review
What resources have you found for teaching your children about bias and considering multiple points of view?

What other heroes of honor would you suggest exploring, regardless of what "side" they came from?
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is It Time For a Revamped Bedtime Routine? {Free Printable!}

Tonight, I decided that it was time for:

For, several years ago, we developed our 5 T's for Bedtime...


They served us well until the children stopped liking music and audio books at night and started wanting to chat longer and longer before actually sleeping.

So, it was time for a change.

Tweaking Our Bedtime Routine with Input from the Kids

Tonight I mentioned to the children that we don't seem to do our 5 T's for Bedtime consistently anymore.  I, then, asked them what they thought we should do before going to bed.  What kinds of things do we need to keep our bodies, brains and souls happy?

The children quickly came up with a list of six things:

  • teeth
  • jammies
  • potty
  • pray/Rosary
  • be quiet
  • read

That was a better start to the tweaking process than I had I expected.  So, I continued on to ask the children if they thought we should do these things in any particular order.  They surprised me by almost immediately agreeing amongst themselves on an order:

  1. Brush teeth.
  2. Go potty.
  3. Change into jammies.
  4. Read together.
  5. Pray together.
  6. Be quiet in bed.

Wow!  We were on a roll!

Keeping the momentum going, I asked what the children thought would be a good time to shoot for actually being in bed and was admittedly shocked when my oldest, the boy who has always been my most challenging bedtime child, did not bat an eyelash before declaring, "8:30".

Just to be sure my boy understood what that meant, I took the children through a quick verbal exercise of working backward with our list:

If you want to be in bed by 8:30, let's see...  How long do the Rosary and prayers usually take us?  (a half hour) And reading together?  (15 minutes to a half hour) And changing? (five minutes)  Potty?  (a few minutes)  Brushing teeth?  (at least two minutes.) So, when would we need to start getting ready for bed?  (7:00/7:30)

At that point, my oldest smirked and suggested that 7:00/7:30 might be a little early.  Perhaps we could start bedtime a little later, he suggested, and, if he was feeling tired, he could skip praying the Rosary with us...  Oh, that boy!

I was not sure how I felt about his suggestion, but his younger siblings were sure of what they thought about it.  To them, it was a sensible idea:  I could read, offer the children their bedtime blessings, say bedtime prayers together and, then, pray the Rosary with whomever wanted to pray with me.

Since I want the children to be invested in their new routine, I did not argue.  Instead, I reiterated their six suggested points and commented that it didn't seem like we had "5 T's" anymore.

Quickly, my daughter decided that we should call our newly tweaked routine our "Six Before Bed", like our "Five Before Breakfast". 

I took her suggestion, typed the new routine up and got started in it tonight.  Here is our Six Before Bed which you can download and print, too, if you wish.

 Wish us luck.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How to Enjoy a Successful Rosary Celebration

Note:  All links in this post are included for your ease and information.  Some are affiliate links.  If you click on them and make any purchase, we may receive compensation.

This past week, I never did get the Sorrowful Mystery Rosary box I was intending to put together done before my children and I joined friends from our local Catholic homeschool network for a Month of the Holy Rosary celebration.  That was okay, though, because the group opted to pray the Joyful Mysteries instead of the Sorrowful ones despite it being Friday, so neither the box, nor the printable cards I had made and shared last week to go inside them, were necessary.

What was necessary, it seems, were lots of small plastic flowers...

 and a decade rosary walk/jumping path.

For, we were not certain our crew of nearly 20 children from babies to teens would make it through praying an entire rosary together, but these tools ensured they did!

While the younger and more motor-driven among us prayed in one room, decorating the coffee filter Hail Mary "beads" on the paper path and playing a variety of games as they prayed, the other children enjoyed offering symbolic plastic flowers at the foot of Mary('s statue) with each prayer.

And so it was that we gathered together at a friend's home to pray...

 ...and, of course, to also play, learn and enjoy one another's company.

In fact, our gracious host did a fabulous job putting together the celebration for all ages to enjoy.  

The day's events included:

...gathering and writing prayers and messages to Mary, which were later placed in a basket on the table that we gathered near while we prayed the rosary, and, then, which were tied to balloons that we went outside to release to the heavens after praying another Hail Mary.

...reading about Mary in A Catholic Child's Illustrated Lives of the Saints, a beautifully illustrated book that one  mom brought to share and another read to the children as they gathered in a seated circle before praying the rosary...

...snacking on a simple cupcake rosary made from the variety of cupcakes that each family brought to the party.

 ...playing Go Fish, Memory and I Spy with my Rosary Rummy cards.

 ...getting creative with Mary-related crafts, which included making laminated book marks, coloring and assembling Mary holding Jesus toilet paper roll crafts, coloring pages and making rosary mystery mini-books.

It was a truly beautiful, age-appropriate and special celebration.  Great thanks to my friend Charisma for putting it together!

Between this event, many youtube videos that lead my children and me through praying the different rosary mysteries and some of our favorite rosary CD's, we have continued to pray the rosary at least once each day this week.  Hooray!

Image Credit: Holy Heroes

Image Credit: Holy Heroes

Image Credit: Holy Heroes

Image Credit: Holy Heroes

I'd love to hear what tools and activities you have found helpful in making praying the rosary a fruitful, fun experience for the children in your life!

If you leave a link to a faith formation idea or a reflection relevant to raising young children in the faith in a comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

How Did I Never Hear of Standard Deviants Before?

I had never heard of Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses by Standard Deviants Accelerate (SDA)until my family was given an opportunity to review them as a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew team.

When deciding whether or not to jump on the opportunity to receive a full year's access to SDA courses, I clicked over to the Standards Deviants site.  My curiosity piqued when I read, "(Our method is) simple. Students teach students. With the help of top teachers, our writers learn the subject and then write the script. The result: great educational content spoken in a student’s voice."

I am a strong believer in the idea that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  I also love how folks who have just learned something share it with others.  Their fresh enthusiasm and dynamic voice often shines through.

For that reason alone, I was "sold" on the opportunity to review Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses despite the fact that my oldest is technically a third grader and the only SDA course currently available at that level is Arithmetic.

What Are Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses?

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

I guess I must have been hiding under the proverbial rock at times over the last 20 years or so, because, as I already mentioned, Standard Deviants was not a familiar name to me when I was offered the opportunity to review SDA courses.  However, the company has been around for 20 years as experts at the craft of condensing full subjects into a few hours of instructional videos that are educational, engaging and entertaining.

Currently, SDA offers the following online courses:

  • Arithmetic
  • Fundamental Math
  • Earth Science
  • Nutrition
  • Algebra
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English Composition
  • U.S. History
  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP US Government and Politics
  • AP U.S. History
  • AP English Composition

Basically, each of these courses takes a year's worth of materials and apportions it into concise, easy-to-digest video clips with corresponding assignments.  Thereby, SDA creates a format for independent learners to pace themselves through engaging and effective learning and review that is meant to be supplementary, but, in my opinion, could stand alone as a survey course.

Each SDA course can be purchased for $99.00 a year or $24.95 per month for core courses and $14.95 for AP ones and requires little more than a computer and any basic school supplies one might want for taking notes.

Our Experience


I had fully intended to have our eight year old son begin progressing through the SDA Arithmetic course while his siblings followed along if they wished to do so.  I also thought my husband might enjoy dabbling in some of the courses during his free moments at work since he has been voicing a desire to freshen up some of his advanced math skills.  And, silly me, thought I might even enjoy some time learning things I may have forgotten or never even began to learn decades ago in high school.

I say silly because I do not know why I imagined I would have any extra time to get online myself!  As life unfolded, my son tried, but did not love the Arithmetic program, because he is going through an "I don't like Math anymore" phase that not even the SDA course could eradicate.  However, he did "love everything except for Math," as he commented.  In fact let me know he "loved the History and Nutrition... (liked) the videos and one guy is funny," when he saw me sitting down to prepare to write this review.  He then did what prevents me from enjoying a course on my own, by giving me the puppy dog eyes and saying, "I want to use it  (meaning SDA) now."  Yep, with one computer to share betwixt us all and limited time for using it, Mom has not yet been able to begin her own SDA studies!

I have enjoyed doing some SDA course portions with my children though.  In fact, when my oldest decided he wanted to try the Nutrition course, I wondered if it would be appropriate for him since it is meant for older children.  So, I sat down with him (and his younger siblings) and began the course together.  To my delight, they all enjoyed the video segments and, obviously, retained information from them as they worked to fill in the interactive diagrams in the unit and to take the multiple choice quizzes that go along with it.   I also smiled when they asked for another segment, and another...

As for my husband, he is interested in the SDA courses, but has been too busy during both work and home to do much more than watch a few History course video clips over our children's shoulders.

My Thoughts on SDA Courses

We are in a casual, child-led learning stage here, so we used SDA courses in a delight-directed way.  Basically, I let the y oldest lead himself and his siblings in exploring any part of any course that he wished to during his online choice time.  Thus, neither my children nor I have taken full advantage of all the features SDA courses offer, which include for the student:

  • video lessons with transcripts that build one upon the other to offer a comprehensive understanding about topics
  • vocabulary lists with definitions
  • critical thinking questions
  • interactive review graphics and assignments
  • quizzes
  • automatic grading of quizzes and tests
  • a note taking feature
  • a print function
  • the ability to message a parent for help on a specific lesson


...and for the parent:

  • grade reports
  • red flag alerts
  • editable scoring rubrics
  • progress indicators


However, I have taken a look at these features and think SDA does a fabulous job at offering them.  SDA courses are already quite complete in content and engaging in style.  The fact that they include the above features also makes them easy for children and parents from a record-keeping and communication standpoint, should such things be needed.  For the record, the courses also align to typical standards, including Common Core, for those that need them to do so.

In all honesty, though, neither the alignment to standards nor the record keeping features are why I appreciate SDA courses.  Quite frankly, what I like about them is that my children like them )even if my children are technically "young" or the courses they have been enjoying thus far).

SDA courses, in our experience are:

  • enjoyable.  Young actors and comedians present seemingly difficult material in accessible, engaging ways (even if some of the jokes are corny and the slang, in my opinion, less than necessary.  I am just not into words like "dude" and "tude", as in bad attitude.)

  • understandable.  As well as the actors, videos employ on-screen graphics, mnemonic devices and creative demonstrations to help children learn.

  • convenient.  SDA can be accessed anytime, anywhere with an internet connection!

  •  effective.  My children have been integrating information learned in the courses into everyday conversations.  So, obviously, they are retaining it!

Learn More

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Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guess Whose Dream Has Come True?

When I was uploading pictures to my computer yesterday, I was pretty bummed that the one above came out so fuzzy.  It had looked clear on the back of my camera after I took it.

Still, fuzzy or not, I am sharing it.


Because it marks an occasion our sweet Nina has been looking forward to for years!

Yes, our girl finally got to sing in the church children's choir!

After years of making microphones from pencils, magnet toys and even balloons...

And, singing praises as she played cantor...

Nina overcame her still developing reading skills to practice, practice, practice, and, thus, memorized songs for this past Sunday's Mass.

What a delight it was to capture her sitting in the front pew of the choir section eagerly awaiting the beginning of the Mass after I came out from helping her big brother get ready to serve on the altar.

Nina was beaming -- before, during and after the Mass.  So pleased to be offering the gift of song up to our Lord.

I, of course, beamed, too.  So happy that my girl truly wants to sing for Jesus and is now old enough to do so with the choir.

I, admittedly, also cried.  During Mass, I got grateful-teary as Nina served in the choir while Luke served on the altar and was later overcome with sad tears as I looked up at the crucifix and the stained-glass window of Mary and prayed for the young girls our extended family has recently lost to suicide. 

Why did their girlish excitement and gifts to give have to be extinguished so soon by their own hands?  How many prayers must be offered in reparation?  how long will healing take?  

Sorrow weighed heavily on me.

Then, I caught Luke smiling and waving from the altar at his sister, who waved back.  It was all I could do not to laugh as I shot Luke a look of redirection and then redirected myself to the what I should have been focusing on all along -- the Mass.

What a gift it is to us.  And how happy I am that my children are choosing to share their gifts of service as a part of the celebration.

May their smiles and song keep going and growing.

One of Nina's dreams came true this past Sunday.  Through mercy and grace, so many other dreams will, too, I know!

Might you join me in prayers of praise and petition for all little girls on earth and those dearly departed?

Discover Archeological Evidence and Historical Connections for the Bible {An iWitness Review}

When I was offered an opportunity to review iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness and New Testament iWitness by Apologia Educational Ministries, I took it.  For despite the fact that my children are ages eight and under, while the reading level of these three books is age 11 and up, I thought my children and I would enjoy the series.  

I value the opportunity to integrate faith into many of our home studies.  My children, husband and I all love learning about history.  And, a recent hands-on field trip to a working archeology dig has had my children excited about connecting to history through artifacts and evidence.  Since the iWitness books by Doug Powell integrate all these things (faith, history and archeological evidence), I figured they would be a win here!

What are iWitness books?

The three iWitness books that we received are 64-page, 9" x 6" softcover volumes that sell for $14 each.  They are designed and written by Doug Powell, an award-winning graphic designer that holds a Masters in Christian Apologetics.

Mr. Powell's passion for design and expertise in Apologetics and come together in the iWitness series to create well-researched and visually interesting books that present scholarly information and archeological evidence in a highly accessible format.

The array of painting, drawings, photographs and other graphic media that illustrate every page of the book can capture younger audiences (like my Nina who held up the page pictured above, commenting on how beautiful the painting in it was.)  The text -- which is woven into the overall design of the iWitness books looking like scraps of handwritten notes, pieces of parchment, or page excerpts from old books -- allows developing readers to tackle the presented information in small chunks.  These small chunks, however, can get quite scholarly, adding up to a lot of "meat" that can give even adult readers quite a bit to dig into.

Apologia Review 
iWitness Biblical Archaeology presents archeological evidence that supports the Bible as an incredibly accurate book in reference to biblical figures, events and places.

Some of the topics it covers are:

  • flood stories from various ancient civilizations.
  • the quest to find Noah's Ark.
  • historical and archeological evidence to support the Old Testament and the New.
  • copies of biblical manuscript.
  • discussion about the Shroud of Turin.
An incredible amount of information about how archeology and the Bible relate is packed into this slim, well-designed volume.

Apologia Review 
Old Testament iWitness offers a visual tour of Jewish history and tradition and explains why the Old Testament can be counted as the Word of God.  It includes discussion of:

  • the meticulous process through which Jewish scribes passed down text throughout the centuries, ensuring accuracy.
  • why each book within the Old Testament is included within the canon.
  • who the major and minor prophets are.
  • how the "Hebrew Bible" and the Old Testament as used by Christians compare.
  • what historical and archeological evidence supports the Old Testament canon.
The book also explains writings of the "intre-testamental period" (from the time of the writing of Malachi to when John the Baptist appeared), thus, discussing the Apocrypha, which Catholics include in the canon.

Apologia Review

New Testament iWitness follows the history and formation of the New Testament canon down a backwards path through time, beginning at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage and moving backward.  It includes discussion of:

  • lists and commentaries that different church fathers and historical church councils drew up as the New Testament.
  • criteria that early Christians used to determine the canon.
  • which books were not included in the canon.
  • how the New Testament books were copied throughout the ages and how scholars reconcile differences between them.
  • what percentage of the original text of the New Testament canon scholars believe is known with a high degree of certainty

Powell also presents a striking graphic that compares the number and reliability of original manuscripts of the Bible with those of other ancient books.

How did we did into iWitness books?

When the books first came in, I presented them to my children and asked which they'd like to begin reading first.  Being recently enthused by archeology, they, of course, chose iWitness Biblical Archaeology.  So we began reading it one night after dinner.

The children got so into the first pages of Witness Biblical Archaeology that they asked me not to stop when I got to the end of the portion about "The Flood", but to continue on through "Looking for Noah's Ark" and, then, into "Egyptian Chronology".  It was there that the children's interest waned.  

The text got a bit too scholarly for my eight, seven and four-year-olds (and well, it should have, as the book is aimed at children ages 11 and up.)  So, I set the book down and suggested we dig into it further another day.

After that my approach with continuing to introduce the books to my children was simple:  I left all three iWitness books on an end table in our living room where the visual interest of the books' design lured them into perusing their pages at times.  

Then, if I caught them looking particularly interested in a page I asked them if they wanted me to read it to them, or to simply explain a bit about the illustrations they were pouring over. 

On occasion, my eight year old tried to read the text along with looking at the illustrations.  Some was above his reading level.  Other portions were written in fonts that he found challenging to read.  In fact, I, too sometimes wished Mr. Powell has foregone the "look" of old typeset or handwriting with some fonts in order to ease the readability of the words within the text.

Despite not reading every page of each of the books to my children just yet, and sometimes moving slowly through reading certain fonts in them myself, I did read each book cover to cover myself.  As I did, I found myself discovering answers to questions I did not even know I had, and, in turn, coming up with more questions.  I also decided that I was quite happy to have the books in our home collection as I am confident that they will be a strong resource for my children and I as my children come to me through subsequent years with questions about how secular culture might support or refute the Bible as a historical document.

In a Nutshell...

While the level of the text within iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness and New Testament iWitness is a bit beyond my children's level right now, my children still understood and enjoyed parts of it.  They also were engaged by the copious amounts of photographs, drawings and paintings contained in the well-laid out books.  The ancient, scholarly scrapbooking feel of the pages drew them in (even if some of the fonts were a bit frustrating for them, and me, to easily read.)

I appreciated the well-researched material covered in each of the books and feel that the books act as effective tools for research and inquiry about how the Bible, history and archeology relate.  I also appreciate the inviting design of the books as it invites readers to dive into scholarly information that might otherwise seem to dry or deep to get into elsewhere.
  Learn More

Apologia Review

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  • Browse 100 reviews about the books at Schoolhouse Review Crew to discover what others think about them and how they have been using them. 

What questions about the Old Testament, the New Testament and Biblical Archeology might you fin an answer for in Doug Powell's visually interesting and well-researched books?
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