Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Works of Mercy in a Film {A Liltte Boy Review}

I'd never heard of the film Little Boy by FishFlix.com before having the opportunity to review it and had no idea when the kids and I popped a DVD copy of it into our laptop to view that it would be so apropos for us.

I knew the film was about faith and the love between a little boy and his father.  I did not know it centered largely on the little boy ticking off items from an "ancient list", i.e. the Corporal Works of Mercy, as he mustered faith and held out hope for his father's return from a Japanese prison camp during World War II.  This Works of Mercy focus tied in perfectly with an initiative the kids and I kicked off just this past week with homeschool friends:  a Works of Mercy club! 

What a happy surprise it was for the children and I to recognize the Corporal Works of Mercy in the film  Better still was when my daughter noted that "he shouldn't be doing those things just once.  We are supposed to always do those things..." 


Mixed Messages, Mostly Good

My daughter is right.  We are always to seek opportunities to express virtue and to live faithfully. However, being human,often we do not. 

Little Boy depicts plenty of such "humanness" in the guise of prejudice, bullying, war, and more.  However, it juxtaposes such vice with an equally human ability to befriend, hope, and act with faith. 

Set in a fictional California town during World War II, the movie opens as a narrator recalls his small-statureded eight-year-old self happily engaged with his dad, who happens to be his "only friend" and "partner". 

Soon thereafter, the father goes to war and gets captured by the Japanese in the Philippines.  Thus, the boy, Pepper, who is tormented by town bullies for being little, has to choose between the despair his big brother feels at his father's uncertain future and the faith he might muster to bring his father home.

Inspired by a magician, counseled by a local priest, and supported by a newly made aging friend, Pepper chooses the latter course.  With his child-like belief, he buys mustard seeds that he might "move mountains" to get his father home.  Then, at the prompting of a priest, Pepper focuses his energies on completing an "ancient list" (the Corporal Works of Mercy) in order to find favor with God so that his dad might come home.  (The priest suggests to another character that, if God does not will for Pepper's dad to come home, God will provide Pepper the strength to get through that, too.)

The priest also adds one additional task to Pepper's focus list: befriend an aging Japanese man, who has been recently freed from internment camps and often bears the brunt of local prejudice.  It is through the growing relationship between this man and Pepper that the rest of the story unfolds, albeit predictably at times, with the beauty of the pair's growing friendship, which includes opportunities for the two of them -- different in age, culture, and faith-basis-- to come together in friendship and even defense of one another as Pepper works to bring is dad back from the war.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the positives of the film promoting Works of Mercy, friendship across barriers, etc. are tarnished a bit by the way it approaches the use of the Atomic bomb at the end of World War II.  Without getting into spoiler details , let me just say that the film does not seem to send a strong enough message about the tragedy of so many Japanese lives lost when the A-bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" was dropped.  

I found I had to stop to discuss briefly with my kids how horrific that incident in history was and how the loss of so many lives should never have been celebrated.  Sure, the end of a war is a good thing, but every life, from conception to natural death, is important in my worldview and I do not feel the movie made this point strongly enough in its treatment of the A-bomb.  (Granted, such a message was not the obvious one the movie was going for, but I still feel the A-bomb scenes could have been treated with greater sensitivity toward the Japanese.)

Thus, I came away from
Little Boy with mixed feelings.  As a whole, I liked the film.  It provided an evening of entertainment for my children and I that tied in well with recent happenings in our lives and sparked some worthwhile discussion about faith, miracles, Works of Mercy, relationships, history, and more.  However, it also seemed a bit predictable at some times and insensitive at others.

All that said, I am glad that we watched the DVD and know we will watch it again, not just for the movie itself, but for the extras on the DVD, too, which included a number of scenes deleted from the final edit of the movie and an animated film short featuring an older woman , a young man, and a snack from a vending machine.

Of these, my five-year-old said:

I liked (the Little Boy DVD).  I want to watch it each day, because of the film short... because it was kind of funny how (the animated woman and young man) both had cookies... I liked the (deleted) scene when they said, "We're going to the moon." I like the battle in the movie, I liked the boy's imagination, and I liked the ending."

My eight-year-old said:

It made my mommy cry.  I did not like the sad parts.  But, I liked how (it ended).  I also liked how the boy thought he made the mountain move even if it was really an earthquake.  I like how they did a group hug at the end. I also liked the deleted scene where everyone was happy, but Little Boy's mommy, because it still had a little happiness in it.

My nine-year-old said:

I liked the video of the magician in the deleted scenes.  It was really funny. I also liked the video in it where the evil person says, "You have to choose..." I liked how the boy in the main film never lost hope. I don't think I could do that..  It is a long movie and I got tired watching it.  It's good, just do not watch it before bed ,because there is a lot of sadness and a few scary parts.  I don' think this movie is good for mommies, because it will make them cry...  It's also not good for people who have just lost a loved one.   I cannot imagine losing my parents.  I think it is a good movie to watch during the day to teach about persistence...

His younger brother then added:
and faith.  I teaches faith.

That it does.  It's a heart-warming story of friendship, family, and faith; vice and virtue; good winning out....  If you're looking for a PG-13, family film that can, in my opinion, be viewed by younger children, too, this is one to consider.

Christian Entertainment at FishFlix.com

FishFlix.com Review

FishFlix.com is an online store that seeks to bring folks quality Christian and family-friendly films at great prices.  From family movies, to epics, to children's tales, to documentaries, FishFlix.com offers a wide array of TV programs, and Christian movies that might inspire, educate, and entertain your family.

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Want to know a but more about some of them?  Check out the reviews made my 100 Schoolhouse Review Crew families that received one of the following films:

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Get Custom-Tailored Reading Lessons Without Mom {A Reading Kingdom Review}

This review, Get Custom-Tailored Reading Lessons Without Mom, was made possible through our review of Reading Kingdom Online by  Reading Kingdom.

  • Do you have a child ready to read?
  • Have you been working with a developing reader who is having trouble putting all the pieces together to move from decoding simple words to comprehending longer passages?
  • Are you seeking a tool to help your 4-10 year old child read and write to a third grade level? 

Then, Reading Kingdom Online might be a good fit for you! 

What is Reading Kingdom?

Reading Kingdom Online is a subscription-based online program that adapts to the skill level of your 4-10 year old child in order to create a custom-tailored online learning environment for him or her to learn to read and write independently through brief, pointed lessons that are recommended to be used four times a week or more.   If your child starts at the very beginning of the program, doing 1-2 lessons per day, 4-5 days a week, the program can take 12-15 months to complete.  However, if your child is a bit further ahead to begin with, your child may master all of the skills the program presents within 3-6 months.

Typically, lessons take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete.  This means you do not have to worry about your child spending too much time in front of a screen.  It also helps with children who need to move and groove, taking advantage of short, focused sit-down lessons between more on-your-feet learning experiences.


The program also tracks for children how many times they have used it per week and what they have accomplished:

using a graphic-based key:

Plus, for parents, there are downloadable progress reports.  These reports can be quite helpful because, when the program is used as designed, parents may not be aware of how children are progressing.  


Because, besides giving your child some hand-over-hand mouse movement and clicking help, if needed, you are encouraged not to provide your child with any aid when your child uses this program.  For the program adapts to your child's skill level and can only do that effectively with no parent coaching. 

Of course, no coaching does not mean no sitting nearby to observe.  For what parent wants to give a child free reign on an online program without being aware of how the program works and what its content is? 

If you're like me, then, you sit near your child when your child first begins to use the program. Then, if you're even more like me and are a phonics-advocate, you may be surprised to see that words like "girl" and "boy" are presented before words like "at", "cat" and "sat".  Bear with this and trust the program.  Phonics are presented.  They simply are blended with other literacy skills. 
Reading Kingdom Online is designed to use more than the typical letter-sound based approach that many strictly phonics-based early reading programs do.  In fact, it  employs a Six Skill Integrated Method patented by Dr. Marion Blank, a world-renowned expert on literacy.  The six traits that the method keys into are:
  • sequencing
  • motor skills
  • sounds
  • meaning
  • grammar
  • comprehension 

Building on these traits, the program can help your child improve reading skills as an independent learner.

How Does the Program Work?

When your child logs onto Reading Kingdom Online for the first time, a Skills Survey comes up.  This assessment determines where in the program your child will be automatically placed.  If your child cannot effectively complete a particular section of the assessment, no further questions are presented for the moment.  Rather, your child moves on to develop skills at the level indicated.  (If, however, you note that your child already has the skills necessary for a section they are automatically placed in, you can override your child's auto-placement, moving your child forward or back as you feel is necessary.)

Once placed at one of the five levels within the program, your child is presented with exercises and games in order to master skills.  These activities include six "books" per level, which means that by the end of the program your child will read 30 books independently!

Of course, between the "books",  plenty of sound, word and, by the nature of the program, typing, practice is offered.  But, not too much.  For, the software is designed to skip over words that your child can already read and write. (Write through keyboarding that is).  Thus, your child avoids drill-and-kill (as long as keyboard- or touch-screen typing are not issues) and accelerates with learning at a custom-designed pace.

Further, despite the fact that "skipping" happens, "holes" are filled.  Tutoring techniques are incorporated into exercises that enable your child to overcome errors and to end each activity with success.  That builds confidence!

Further, at the conclusion of each of the five levels of reading and writing that the program offers, a Progress Check is made.  This helps the program software to ensure that your child's reading achievements are on track.  If they are, your child moves onto the next level.  If not, your child is given a set of review activities to encourage stronger progress.

Finally, along with all the automated, individualized features of the program,
Reading Kingdom Online offers your child a sense of being in control of his or her own learningAt the conclusion of lessons, there is a competent that allows your child choose to do more activities or not.  This feature can motivate your child with a sense of "I know I need to learn to read, and I can determine how much reading practice I am ready for right now."  (More than once, my children chose to continue their practice!)

Obviously, with all these features,
Reading Kingdom Online is a comprehensive program that can help your child master reading skills to a third-grade level.  It can do this as a stand-alone reading curriculum or can be used to supplement whatever approach you are already using

Since the program works on any device with an internet connection, including Windows, Mac, iPad, Android, Chromebooks, etc., it can be used at home or on-the-go in order to help your child achieve reading success!

Our Experience

I decided to use Reading Kingdom Online with my five and eight-year-olds, who were at similar levels with their decoding skills and not too different with their encoding skills.  As background, my eight-year-old began wanting to learn to read early (we're talking at two or three years old), but, then, kept hitting walls that indicated she was not yet ready to do soHer brother, my five-year-old, is progressing with reading at a level typical to same-age peers.

With my wall-hitting my eight-year-old, the program has proven a success.  Granted, she has not made huge leaps and bounds yet with it despite using it four or more times a week, but she is gaining in confidence and showing steady incremental movement forward both in the downloadable reports I get from the program as well as in our continued 1:1 book-and-game-based reading lessons.  Better still, I no longer bear all the brunt for her reading frustrations.  For, yes, I would love to say learning to read is always a pleasant experience for my daughter and me, but, honestly, it is not. 

My daughter will gladly cuddle for read alouds, narrate stories back to me, complete short copywork pieces as asked and even on her own... but decoding and encoding to read an write?  Yikes!  My daughter's frustration with decoding beyond the most basic CVC and CCVC words, and with encoding things that have b's and d's in them, in particular, sometimes results in eruptions that include scowling, stomping, crying, and other manifestations of frustrated sadness or anger. 

In the past, when such expressiveness has occurred, I have tended to change things up... to offer a fun (and much-need!) body break or to make lots of "I can do this" games a part of our lessons. I have also, at times, simply stopped whatever lesson we are on, opting to continue when attitude and displayed readiness improve.  

This worked for years, because it kept things in our home more peaceful and, honestly, the only thing showing my daughters readiness to read before was her age, not her demonstrated skills.  However, now, I know my daughter is ready to progress.  So, stopping as often is not an option for me anymore.  Unfortunately, my daughter sometimes wants it to be.  When she struggles, she wants to stop.  She gets expressive about it, and, her expressiveness, in turn, can set me off.  So, there's just something about the mother-daughter learning experience that does not work at such times.

Enter Reading Kingdom Online: our peaceful reading tutor.  

Computers do not react to outbursts the same way I do.  They simply carry on.  And, I have found, that even though my daughter still gets frustrated when she uses online programs (as the photo below indicates), she moves through her moods with less intensity and duration , thereby pushing past challenging moments in a steadier fashion.  So, she is able to work on reading every day while she and I maintain more peaceful relations.

On days when my daughter is "off" mood-wise, and on days when I am busy or less-than-patient, as well as on days when she just has an extra 10-15 minutes to spend on skill time studies, my daughter turns to Reading Kingdom OnlineThat means days of reading practice never get skipped altogether.  Whether using just Reading Kingdom Online, learning with me, or doing both, my daughter is now - mostly peacefully - exercising decoding and encoding skills six days a week.  The practice of these skills, in addition to other skills that she has always enjoyed daily (like read alouds and oral comprehension), have both my daughter and I moving along with her reading mastery with increased motivation, confidence, and ease.

Likewise, my five-year-old is getting more regular reading skills time in, too.  He sits down with Reading Kingdom Online three times a week on average, and spends some 1:1 time with me doing our typical book-and-game-based learning.  Betwixt the two, his skills continue to develop at age-typical levels.  Better still, daily reading lessons rarely get lost in the shuffle of out-of-the-home experiential learning or me being focused on my older two children, work, cooking, housekeeping, or volunteer pursuits.  It's just so easy to sit my five-year-old down for 10-15 minutes with Reading Kingdom Online on my laptop while I attend to other matters that we do not tend to skip reading lessons on any given day anymore. 

Our Opinion and Our Plans Moving Forward

I am glad Reading Kingdom Online came into our household because it has helped us become more peacefully consistent with reading skills practice, and I would recommend the program to others with developing readers, especially those who struggle.

Although my daughter does not always love the program and does, at times, get frustrated while using it, she persists better with it when frustrated than she does with me.  She'll scowl and complain a bit to the computer, but, then, carry on instead of gearing up into a full blown emotional outburst.  Further, when we have been working together 1:1 with our usual reading lessons, I have noticed her confidence and skills getting a little stronger.  Mission accomplished!  I plan to continue to use
Reading Kingdom Online with her four times a week or so as long as success continues.

This is what my daughter had to say about the program:

I like the first lessons best.  They were longer, but easier.  The lessons now sometimes make me practice words that I click on wrong for what seems like hours on end even if it is really only minutes.  I don't like that.  Sometimes I know the word but click wrong... But, I like that lessons are easy and short and you can review them.  I also like that you can choose if you can end or review and that you can pause it... I think I'm becoming stronger at reading.

My youngest son typically enjoys times when he is allowed to be online by himself, but, to be honest, does not love Reading Kingdom Online.  When I asked him what he thinks of the program, he said:

I don't like it because of the clicking and all that stuff.  I use it only because you ask me to.

Indeed, my son
is compliant about using the program when asked to do so and sometimes even asks to continue on with the program after a single lesson is completed on it, but he never asks to use it without my suggestion. Further, I have not yet noticed a marked difference in his reading confidence or skills since he began using the program when compared with what I witnessed before it was added to our repertoire of leaning options.  I have, however, been pleased that the program has ensured individualized reading instruction for my son even on the days I am not able to sit down for 1:1 reading time with him. Further, I appreciate that just yesterday when I asked my son to use the he hot started right away, began giggling not long afterward, and , then, requested:

Can I use it for another 15 minutes?

It appears that he may report that Reading Kingdom Online is not his favorite thing, but that, once using it, he likes it.  So, now that our review period for the program is ending, I will likely have my youngest son use the program on days when I am unable to offer him a daily reading lesson or on days when he has a bit of extra time during our skill time lessons at home. For, while I know the program recommends at least 4-days of use per week for most notable progress, I do not need it as a tool for progress at this point with my son, only as a tool for our reading lesson consistency.  I relish the fact it offers him a way to maintain or advance his skills without Mom directing a lesson on days when doing so is a challenge for me. 

I truly believe that what works best with reading instruction is whatever is "right" right now for a particular child in a particular family at a particular time.  For one of my children, four times a week with
Reading Kingdom Online to practice with works well right now.  For another, less often fits our needs.  If you are looking for a new tool to help your child reach reading success, I'd recommend trying a FREE 30-Day Trial to see what works best for you and your child!

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Reading Kingdom Review

Reading Kingdom Review

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