Friday, October 31, 2014

Use What You Have: A Quick and Easy Activity to Get Brain and Body Moving

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The other day, I had to run out for a few minutes while my husband was sleeping and my kids were awake.  Instead of lulling my children toward good behavior with screentime, I opted to use what we have at home to engage them in multi-sensory learning and fun.

I grabbed two puzzles they had not seen in a while from our stash - Melissa & Doug's 48-piece Endangered Species Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle and an 18-piece Great American Puzzle Factory zoo train floor puzzle with extra large pieces.  The first, I thought, would entertain Luke and challenge Nina, while the second would be at a level Jack with his siblings' help, could handle.  Both would get the children moving their bodies and engaging their brains as they pieced the puzzles together.

Then, on one of our Wall Pops Peel and Stick Dry Erase Message Boards, which I recently scored on sale at Staples, I drew a Venn Diagram for the kids and reviewed what it can be used for.

With that, I left the children with a challenge:

Complete the puzzles.  Examine them.  See what you might write on the Venn Diagram.

When I returned, I found the children safe, happy, having completed the puzzles and just beginning to sketch an image at the center of the Venn Diagram to capture one of their ideas.  Upon their request, I acted as a secretary to fill the rest of their ideas in on the diagram.  As I did, I was impressed with just how carefully the children inspected the two puzzles to find similarities and differences and pleased with how well the impromptu activity had turned out.  Thus, I felt compelled to share it here.  I hope it inspires you to liven up an old game or toy with a new learning twist!

What are some ways you use what you have around to enourage fun and learning?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Who Doesn't Enjoy a Treasure Hunt? {A Clued in Kids Review}

Fun.  Learning.  Treasure!  What family doesn't like these things?  Certainly mine does.  So, it was a no brainer for us to accept an offer to review both the Playdate Clue Pad and the Gluten Free Treasure Hunt by Clued in Kids.

What are Clued in Kids Treasure and Scavenger Hunts?

Clued In KidsReview

In a nutshell, Clued in Kids treasure hunts are a series of themed clues (on a printable pdf or on a physical pad) that children solve and follow in order to find a treasure Scavenger hunts, on the other hand, require children to search for lists of items.  Both offer opportunities for children to practice reading, math, logic and social skills while enjoying an adventure around a home or classroom.

These hunts, which were the brainchild and long-time dream of a woman with an incredible story, are designed for pre-k through elementary school -aged children (depending on the hunt).  They take about eight minutes or less for an adult to set up and can be enjoyed by between one and ten children at a time.

printable takes approximately 8 minutes to set up, and will provide an hour or more of fun for children ages 4 and up. - See more at:

Clued in Kids offers a wide variety of treasure and scavenger hunts, which include the following printable pdf's:

Nutrition-Themed (for Allergies, ADHD, etc.):
Educational Related:

They also offer physical pads that come by post, such as:

You can see how they work here:


If you'd like to try your own Clued in Kids hunt, simply sign up for the Clued in Kids Newsletter to receive a free printable pdf of the Homework Reward Printable Treasure Hunt.

A Hunt to Learn About Gluten-Free Diets

Clued In KidsReview

One of the hunts I chose was the Gluten-Free Printable Treasure Hunt, which sells for $5.99 and was delivered electronically as an 8-page pdf containing 12 clues.  After looking at the hunt, which required reading and spelling skills beyond my children's levels, I decided to try this hunt first at a time when Daddy was home to help.

First, I printed it out the hunt and cut the clue sheets in half as there were two to a page.  Then, following the included tips, I assigned clues according to the ages and abilities of my children.  

I also adjusted some of the clues and hiding spots due to the fact that we don't have, say, a microwave,  From there, I went about the house hiding clues.  All this took me less than 10 minutes.

Once all the clues were hidden, I sent the children, with Daddy as a helper, adventuring on the hunt while I did a chore or two, pausing to snap an occasional photo.

The kids were, admittedly, a bit cranky the morning we did the hunt, so they did get into a few tiffs despite the fact that I had followed the tip that suggested putting a name on each clue.  Still, with Daddy's encouragement, the children persisted with the hunt, and enjoyed more of it than they squabbled over.  In fact, they even got over their nastiness and put their heads together for teamwork - literally!

Then, when they could not figure things out on their own, Daddy helped, letting the children do the writing while he did the reading and part of the figuring.

Finally, after reading (and learning) quite a lot about gluten-free diets through clue sheets that included puzzles, drawing and more, the children finally found their treasure: a gluten-free snack and a movie to celebrate the feast day.  They were so excited!

All's well that ends well.  In fact, all's well when fun, learning, physical activity and treasure wrap up into one morning's activity!

A Playdate Among Family

When I selected the Playdate Clue Pad, which sells for $8.99 and was received as a pre-printed pad in the mail, I fully intended to use it for an actual playdate.  However, we've been so busy with organized field trips, meet ups and classes that I ended up deciding not to organize yet another time with friends.  

Instead, I opted to use the playdate pad for my children to count chocolate chips on illustrated cookies, navigate mazes, crack secret codes and get silly with physical challenges on their own in order to find a "treat snack" instead.  And, most certainly, we did all that with our "just us" Playdate Treasure Hunt.

Because this treasure hunt required less advanced reading and writing skills than the Gluten-Free Printable Treasure Hunt we had previously done, I knew my children could do it without Daddy and my help.  So, I simply assigned and hid the clues, in about five minutes, and set the children off for their adventure.

They took right to the hunt, cracking codes and finding clues...

They also cracked me up as they got clue-sheet led sensory breaks, like singing the ABC's while pretending to hulahoop!

And, of course, they met with overall success:  having practiced teamwork, logic and some academic skills, they found their treasure: GFCF sugar cookies that they thoroughly enjoyed for snack!

Would I Recommend Clued in Kids?

I sure would!

In our experience, Clued in Kids provide an easy way for parents (or even pre-teen or teen helpers) to quickly set up an adventure that children can enjoy and learn from.  The treasure hunts include a variety of clue types - True and False, mazes, secret codes, physical "dares" and more - while exercising skills like reading, math, logic, problem-solving and teamwork.  Moreover, they are fun!

What's not to like about all that!?!

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Clued In KidsReview

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Do I Get My Ever-Active Kiddoes to Crash?

Okay, so I have taken some liberty with the photo above.  It was not taken right after praying the rosary together.  Rather, it is from the other morning.

I had gone into the children's room to check on the kids and found two of them sleeping ever so sweetly, whereupon I tiptoed out of the room, grabbed the camera and stealthily captured the moment to smile back on later.

The moment right now though - as I write this post to be published tomorrow morning - will not be captured on film.  For I dare not move!

On my left, the feet that tried to kick me today are woven through blankets, one atop my lap and the other nudging my side as a boisterous four year old who lies perpendicular to me gets some much needed sleep.  On my right, a sweet seven year old who offered her brother's earlier painful infractions up shortly before falling asleep lays cuddled into me.  If I move, I may wake one or both of them and this moment is just too peaceful for that to happen.

What brought on this moment?  Youtube rosary videos!

Yes, we've been continuing my newly forming nightly rosary habit here and, tonight, as they often do, Jack and Nina joined me.

Jack, who had caused a late afternoon and evening to be punctuated by moments that make "challenging" seem like an understatement quieted right down as we began praying the Joyful Mysteries online with video clips.  In fact, his behavior went from crazy to calm to kinked out.  Before we had prayed our third decade, he was asleep.

Nina was equally soothed by the rosary, but not to soothed to sleep right away.  Rather, she prayed the entire rosary with me and then delighted when I told her I was also going to pray the Coronation of Mary mystery.  We chose a video we had never viewed before to help us with this.  Between prayers, she commented on how beautiful the images in the video were and, then, when the decade was done, happily cuddled into me and was asleep in seconds.

We may have concluded our rosary praying for the evening with a decade in honor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, but what we experienced, in quite a literal way, Our Lady Queen of Peace!  (Or, rather, both.)

I so needed Our Lady's intercession this evening.  I dare say, I always do.

I wonder if she is smiling down at my peace right now as I am doing at my children's?  Somehow, I think she may be.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, 
Blessed Mother, pray for us.

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 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.

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

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

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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

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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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