Sunday, October 19, 2014

How to Enjoy a Successful Rosary Celebration

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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

    Click to read Crew Reviews

  • 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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Monday, October 13, 2014

Get Your FREE Printable Sorrowful Mystery 3-Part Cards!

Note:  This post contains an affiliate link to our favorite rosary CD's from Holy Heroes for your convenience.

Last week I shared five tried-and-true strategies that I've used for getting children to pray the rosary.

This week, I am delighted to report that our strategies are still working.  Between youtube videos, audio CDs and a parish collaborative rosary event, at least one of my children has gladly joined me in praying the rosary each day this past week.  In fact, on more than one occasion, all three did, and, once, my children even requested a second round!  (Miracles can and do happen. Praise the Lord!)

I am hoping our habit continues this coming week, and, thinking it will as we look forward to an end-of-the-week cupcake rosary with friends.

For that rosary event, I plan to make a Montessori-inspired Sorrowful Mysteries Rosary Box to share.  Thus, I spent some time after the kiddoes got to sleep tonight making 3-Part Sorrowful Mystery Cards for the box and am sharing them now with you!

Please enjoy these cards, and offer feedback if you have a moment to do so.  For, I am trying out a new size with these cards and am wondering what you think about it.  Too big?  Too small?  Just right?  Let me know.  

I also made both an image- and a text-based card for each mystery based on someone's prior suggestion and, then, made versions of each of these cards with "cutting lines" and without since someone told me that they prefer control cards not to have lines on them.  (See, I do take constructive suggestions when folks are kind enough to offer them!)

Next week, I hope to share pictures of our finished Sorrowful Mystery Rosary Box!

Would you like me to make corresponding sets of cards for all the mysteries?  What other resources help you teach your children about the rosary or act as prayer aids?
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 11, 2014

Middle-of-the-Night Reflections on Bountiful Blessings

What's a Mama to do when she wakes in the middle of the night not feeling well but unable to get back to sleep?  

Reflect on another week of blessings and bounty, perhaps?

On little girls who demonstrate virtue and skill...

Building forts after football, a trees class and a walk in the woods is hungry work, apparently, as it inspired our Nina to request to go inside to prepare a snack for herself and her friends.

I was pleased and surprised when Nina came out carrying a fruit tray to share with everyone.  She'd gone in, selected produce, sliced it, tidied up and served us all of her own accord.

Then, as the boys continued to work, Nina decided it was time for a drink, so, demonstrating continued hospitality, she came out bearing homemade raspberry juice.

Little girls who take initiative in hospitality, hard work and play certainly bring a smile to a Mama's face!

On family who offer time and talent...

Three little curly heads walk into Accentuation, and when Auntie has finished sharing her time and talent with them, this is what comes out:

 Beaming babes so excited to show Grammy their new hair cuts (and to ask if they can help her pick grapes and begin a batch of homemade grape juice, a request that Grammy, of course, happily obliges.)

Simple moments with extended family are such a blessing!

On Daddy's that risk thumbs and appreciate family time...

One complaint I could never make is that my husband does not engage with his children.  In fact, Daddy gets right in there with his kids, even risking his thumbs at times, as he did last Saturday when he chose accompanying the kids and me to a Home Depot workshop over catching up on some much-needed sleep.

And - bonus for me - Mike enjoyed time with the kids while I went out on a rare Mom's Night with a fellow Signature Moms blogger, where we got to try our hands at our first (free!) paint night ever.  Thank you, Signature Healthcare, The Pour Artist and Mike for the fun time out!

On helpful community events...
It's hard to believe that this eight-year-old who was completely engaged by playing in a forest fire truck, moving through a "smoke house" and more this past weekend used to struggle so much with such outings.

Attending a local annual fire safety open house first started paying off for Luke a couple years ago, when sensory overload began to abate.  Now, curiosity and imagination are king!

All three children engage, learn and enjoy...

While Mom and Dad smile almost as big as Jack.  (But not quite.  Oh, how that boy can smile!)

On girls being girls and boys being boys...

Sandwiched between boys, it can be tough for a girl to find girl time.  

Yet, after coming to the end of the rope (or yarn, as the case may have been during the kids string walk at Eco Science club this week), Nina found time for girls to just be girls...

Hanging in a tree with a best bud away from the fray of her brothers for a bit...

...and setting up a "salon" on a boulder in the sunshine, where her friends and her did one another's hair before inviting Moms to come over to get their hair done, too, complete with stick combs, twisties and braids.

Meanwhile, the boys were boys...  Climbing trees...

Rolling abandoned tires about...

...and exploring the trails, with the boys in the lead and Mom following a bit behind for safety and snapshots!

Life is so good when friends hang out after events to enjoy gorgeous autumn days!

On quiet family time...

(Disclosure:  An affiliate link to Amazon is included in this portion of the post for your convenience.  Should you choose to click on it to make any purchase, we may receive income at no cost to you.  Thank you.)

While being out often brings adventure, being home can bring fun, too, especially when you are trying out a new game like Snake Oil - Party Potion.  It was so much fun this week to spend quiet time playing this game on the couch with the kids.

Of course, once we got Daddy into the game, "quiet" no longer described our time.  Indeed, the children's rapt attention to Daddy's sales pitches became punctuated by raucous laughter and ridiculous groans.

I wonder if the kids will remember these simple family times when they grow up as much as they do all our adventuring...

On Self-Directed Learning

One reason we choose to homeschool is so our children can learn at their own pace, maintaining their love for learning and inquisitive natures.  Part of our choice, then, becomes letting the children lead a large amount of their "schooling" activities, such as when Nina made herself a "learning center" this morning in the hallway and, then, proceeded to select word cards to build sentences with all of her own accord.

Or, when Jack takes out dry-erase cards to practice letters with on his "Montessori" rug.

Or when the science lesson of a morning comes from simply noticing what's going on inside or butterfly habitat.  

The children were so excited to see our second caterpillar had gone into j-form and had begun to make a chrysalis this morning, but, then, so disappointed to admit later in the day that something had gone awry.  The little guy never finished his chrysalis and seems to have passed away mid-try.

The other monarch we are fostering seems to be doing well still, though.  We are hopeful that we'll have a butterfly to tag and set free soon!

We love books here, but there is just nothing like learning about life, death and cycles through real life experience.

Real life, even with headaches and sleep interruptions, is incredibly blessed.  Thinking about the past week again proves that to me.  At home, out and about, one-on-one or in a group, my children, my husband and me continue to know and appreciate the fullness of life. 

What bounty of blessings have you experienced this week?

Sharing at My BJs Wholesale, Conversion Diary, Pebble Pond, and Home to 4 Kiddos.


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